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'That makes football fun'

Ruthless Reds maintain dazzling streak

Seven games, 21 points, 28 goals for and two against - FC Bayern have been a touch more than impressive in the second half of the Bundesliga campaign so far. The Reds keep marching on and on at the top of table, winning game after game and leaving nothing to chance. Saturday’s 6-1 win at Wolfsburg means FCB have clocked up 49 straight games without defeat - but Pep Guardiola’s team had to put in more of a shift against the fifth-placed team than the final score suggests.

“We knew we were going to face a tough challenge,” declared Guardiola after the final whistle in front of a 30,000 capacity crowd at the Volkswagen Arena. VfL Wolfsburg competed on equal terms for the first hour and made FCB work for the win. “We saw again today that you don’t get something for nothing and you have to keep working hard,” said Arjen Robben. And Jérôme Boateng added: “We can’t take every opponent to the cleaners. It was a hard-earned win today.”

Top quality on the bench

The hosts were aggressive, disciplined and hard-working from the kick-off and they gave as good as they got against the treble winners for much of the game. “We were outstanding for 60 to 65 minutes,” said VfL coach Dieter Hecking after the game, “we did a lot really well and we had Bayern on the back foot.” The teams were level at 1-1 on 63 minutes: Naldo gave the hosts the lead on 17 minutes before Xherdan Shaqiri scored the equaliser nine minutes later.

Up to that point, VfL showed an “incredible rhythm” and “played much better than us” at times as Guardiola admitted in praise of the opposition. The Wolves pressed the leaders hard and disrupted their play up to the box. That gave FCB “problems in build-up play and in gaining numerical superiority in midfield,” as Guardiola conceded. But then the “top quality on the Bayern bench” (Hecking) came to the rescue to tip the balance in favour of the visitors in an evenly-balanced encounter.

Subs change the game

Guardiola made two inspired substitutions in bringing on Thiago for Shaqiri (56) and Mario Mandzukic for Toni Kroos (57). The switches changed the shape of the team and lead to the 22nd win of the season. Thiago provided a fine pass to set up Thomas Müller (63) to make it 2-1 for the Reds before Mandzukic (66) increased the lead three minutes later. “We caught them at the right moment and hit them again straight away to put the result beyond doubt,” was Müller’s analysis of the crucial phase of the game.

Franck Ribéry (71), Müller (78) and Mandzukic (80) netted the other goals for Bayern who produced “a brief frenetic burst where we mercilessly exploited the space we created,” added Müller, “that makes football fun.” For skipper Philipp Lahm it was “only a matter of time” before VfL were forced to buckle under the pressure. “It’s not easy playing a pressing game for 90 minutes and keeping up the aggression. We broke them down in the end.”

“The win was very important for us. We’ve taken another great step forward in defending our title,” was Guardiola’s positive assessment of the sixteenth win in succession. However, the Spaniard was anything but happy with the first 60 minutes just three days before the return leg against Arsenal in the Champions League Round of 16: “We weren’t as dominant as we have been in recent games.” The Reds will need to produce a different display against the Gunners. “We’ll have huge problems if we let Arsenal have the ball,” the boss warned.