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FCB extend lead

Reds rewarded for fight to the finish

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At quarter to two in the morning in Munich, the TVs are off and the houses and homes have gone dark. But anyone who happened to be strolling down Säbener Strasse in the wee small hours of Thursday morning would have seen the arrival of the Bayern team bus, its headlights briefly illuminating the darkness of the night. The passengers were the tired but delighted Bayern stars, arriving back in their hometown following a 2–1 victory away to Stuttgart, some 230 km away on the Autobahn.

The fixture rearranged from last December did not start according to the FCB plan. “We saw a lot of the ball in the first half,” commented Philipp Lahm – something of an understatement when his side had around 80 percent of the possession at times. But there was to be no early reward in the shape of goals or even clear-cut chances, because the club world champions “weren’t as determined as usual,” Lahm suggested.

Patience and timing

There was also the obstacle presented by a courageous and passionate home team. “Stuttgart gave away very little at the back, and we hardly had any chance of getting in behind them. We never produced the killer passes,” Lahm noted in recognition of a fine performance by VfB. The challenge for the league leaders became even bigger with a half-hour played when Vedad Ibisevic opened the scoring for the team in 12th. There were no further goals before half-time, meaning FCB turned round in arrears for the first time since 19 October 2013, when they trailed Mainz 1–0 but came back to win 4–1.

However, this Bayern team is supremely capable of getting going when the going gets tough. “We were better in the last ten minutes of the first half and after the break, when we created far more chances,” Pep Guardiola analysed. His captain felt the champions were “better and better in the second half. We showed we’re capable of great patience and scoring goals at just the right time.”

Guardiola made what turned out to be game-winning substitutions on the hour, switching to full-on attack by introducing Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic. The Croat got through sterling work in battering away at the Stuttgart defence, and the Peruvian finished off one of Bayern’s increasingly dangerous attacks with the equaliser a quarter of an hour from time. A point away from home from a tricky encounter would surely be enough. Or would it?

Superb fighting spirit

No it wouldn’t. The league leaders were determined to win and piled forward, in the full knowledge they could still overcome the awkward and never passive home team despite the energy already expended in an intense encounter. “We battled away out there,” said Dante, showing a few scars from the fight when he spoke to reporters afterwards. Thiago offered a crisp summary: “We kept trying for the win right to the end.“

The Spaniard himself sensationally and acrobatically sealed the win in the third minute of stoppage time, when everyone involved had settled for a draw – except for the Bayern players, of course. “At the end of the day we’re delighted to be going home with the points,” observed Dante. “We’ve extended our lead,” added Guardiola, eyeing FCB’s 13-point cushion in the standings, “so we’re happy.” And how about the tiredness? That was soon dealt with by a few restful hours in bed.