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Götze supplies the spark

FCB see off Mainz in superb second half

Half-time sub Mario Götze provided the spark as Bayern showed huge character in a vastly-improved second-half display on Saturday, coming from behind for the first time this term to beat feisty Mainz and go back to the top of the Bundesliga. The Reds also extended their unbeaten league run to 34 games and posted a morale-boosting success prior to Wednesday’s Champions League meeting with Viktoria Plzen.

Guardiola warned beforehand it would be a very tough match, and the customary 71,000 capacity crowd at the Allianz Arena duly saw the least fluent half of football this season from the men in red, who lacked the precision to unpick the disciplined visiting defence. Worse still, Shawn Parker capitalised on a rare defensive error to hand Thomas Tuchel’s side the lead a minute before the break.

Whatever Guardiola said at half-time had the desired effect, as sub Mario Götze provided a sweet 50th-minute assist for Arjen Robben to equalise, before Thomas Müller turned the game on its head less than two minutes later. Mario Mandzukic made it safe with Bayern’s third goal 20 minutes from the end, with Müller adding a fourth from the spot in the 82nd minute.

In the standings, Bayer Leverkusen controversially took first place overnight, but Saturday’s win means Bayern return to the top of the table on 23 points from nine games, one ahead of Dortmund and Bayer. The Bavarians now entertain Czech contenders Viktoria in midweek, before tackling the third home game in a week next Saturday when Hertha Berlin visit Munich.

Franck and Shaq sidelined

Injuries picked up in the two-week international break following Bayern’s 1-1 draw away to Leverkusen meant Guardiola was without Xherdan Shaqiri and UEFA Best Player in Europe Franck Ribery, with the boss also choosing to rest David Alaba. Arjen Robben, Mandzukic and Diego Contento came into the side, with Götze offering a potent attacking option from the bench.

The treble winners started with Manuel Neuer in goal, Rafinha, Jerome Boateng, Dante and Contento in the back four, Philipp Lahm in the holding role, Robben and Thomas Müller out wide, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos in central midfield, and Mandzukic as the target man.

Mainz supremo Tuchel lost one of his Müllers, goalkeeper Heinz, to injury on Friday, but top striker Nicolai passed a fitness test in the morning and started the match. Tuchel, renowned for varying his strategies to match the day’s opponents, made a total of six changes to his line-up in the effort to counter the in-form champions and started with the rare tactic of a five-man defensive line.

FCB lose Dante and concede opener

Busy Mainz gave as good as they got in the first quarter-hour after referee Thorsten Kinhöfer whistled play underway, with the visitors’ Johannes Geis lashing the first chance of the game wide of Neuer’s goal. But Guardiola’s men had more of the ball and began getting at the Mainz defence, Dante heading a Robben free-kick just over the bar after 22 minutes and Contento forcing keeper Christian Wetklo to intercept a cut-back at full stretch.

Robben whipped a drive wide of the right-hand upright as Munich forced a series of corners, but at the other end Parker led a dangerous raid only to curl his attempted finish into the crowd.

There was a blow for Bayern three minutes from half-time when Dante hobbled out of the action, Alaba replacing the Brazilian and taking up station in the unfamiliar position of centre-back. But it was regular central defender Boateng who misread Julian Baumgartlinger’s long ball out of defence, allowing Parker to skilfully round Neuer and hand his men a half-time lead.

Scintillating second half

Guardiola reacted at the interval and brought on Götze for Rafinha, with Lahm and Alaba reverting to right and left-back respectively. Mandzukic headed wide, but it was Götze who provided the sublime assist to release Robben for a cool finish across Wetklo and level it up after 50 minutes. Just 113 seconds later, Götze and Robben combined sweetly to set up Müller for a close-range finish and the game was turned on its head.

With the crowd roaring them on, FCB went for the jugular, but Wetklo blocked Lahm’s drive. Mainz withstood the storm and Neuer was twice in action to deny Nicolai Müller and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, but the brief flurry only served to reenergise the men in red and Mandzukic slotted home the 69th-minute third after yet more great work by Götze down the inside right channel.

The lead was comfortable now but FCB were not finished yet and Wetklo made a fingertip save to deny Kroos. Ex-Mainz regular Jan Kirchhoff replaced Mandzukic for the last quarter of an hour, before Mainz captain Nikolce Noveski blatantly pushed Schweinsteiger in the box with eight minutes left and Thomas Müller stepped up to do the honours and make the score 4-1.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley