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No let-up

Another step closer to the title

Strong winds and drizzly rain made it a not entirely pleasant Sunday morning in Munich, but that failed to prevent some 1,000 loyal fans turning out to watch their heroes train. A day out at the Säbener Strasse facility was well worth it, because the likes of Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribéry and Thiago were out on the training ground honing their skills. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer and the rest of the starting line-up for the previous evening’s meeting with Bayer Leverkusen remained in the performance centre for regeneration exercise. The 2-1 victory over ultra-defensive opponents had cost a lot of energy.

“The match was no thriller, but Leverkusen did everything they could to stop it being one,” summarised Thomas Müller. The visitors parked the proverbial bus, “and it made us a little lethargic. We didn’t build ourselves up to the limit.“ Matthias Sammer tended to agree. “The facts are that we controlled the match, but we were a little too slow and laboured. It wasn’t sparkling stuff.“

But at the end of the day FCB fully deserved the win, with 23 shots to their opponents’ six, almost 80 percent of the possession and 824 passes to Bayer’s 209. The Bayern express is steaming inexorably towards a 24th German championship. FCB’s lead over their rivals, now up to 23 points, is such that Munich could formally retain the league title in Mainz next weekend if results elsewhere go their way. “We’ve come another step closer,” noted Arjen Robben.

No let-up

But whether the moment arrives in Mainz, in Berlin or then at home to Hoffenheim, the vital task for the weeks to come will be “to maintain positive tension,” agreed Pep Guardiola and Sammer. “We’re in a situation where we could do things differently, but paradoxically we mustn't start thinking we can afford to let our rhythm slip,” said the board director for sport, “as situations go it’s a comfortable situation. But we must be very careful not to let up.”

Bayern, who now have an astonishing 71 of a possible 75 points from 25 matches, found it hard to get going against Leverkusen. “We had problems in our build-up play,” said Guardiola, “fortunately, we scored just before half-time.“ Mario Mandzukic broke the deadlock with a trademark header after 44 minutes. Schweinsteiger settled the issue on 52 minutes with a superb free-kick, before Stefan Kießling netted the visitors’ stoppage-time consolation.

“The second half was a lot better,” commented Guardiola. Sammer saw “great individual quality for the goals.” Overall, however, there had been “too little pace” in the game, although it proved enough for an ultimately comfortable home win. The record-breaking streaks continue, causing Müller to indulge in a spot of euphoria: “It’s all a bit crazy. 50 games without defeat, that’s something else. But I think 17 wins in a row is even more impressive. Great stuff!“