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VfB Stuttgart 1 Bayern 2

Thiago stunner seals last-gasp triumph

Thiago was Bayern’s stoppage-time hero as the champions made it two Bundesliga wins out of two since the mid-season break with a hard-earned 2-1 victory away to VfB Stuttgart in Wednesday evening’s clash, rearranged to accommodate the Club World Cup last December. The late but deserved 16th win of the campaign sees FCB move a commanding 13 points clear at the top of the standings on the back of a phenomenal unbeaten run now stretching to 43 games.

The 60,449 full house at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart saw the visitors boss the possession but struggle to create much by way of first-half chances against determined and disciplined opponents, who took a 29th-minute lead when Vedad Ibisevic netted from a narrowly offside position. Pep Guardiola’s men upped the ante after the interval and camped out in the last third for long spells, finally earning their reward after 76 minutes when sub Claudio Pizarro headed his side level. It looked as though VfB would hold out for a draw but Thiago’s brilliant strike with almost the last kick meant the points went back to Bavaria.

The narrow win means FCB have reached the half-century of points after just 18 of the 34-game league programme and have opened up a yawning 13-point lead over second-placed Leverkusen. The Bavarians are back in Bundesliga action on Sunday when struggling Eintracht Frankfurt visit the Allianz Arena.

Pep premiere: no changes

For the first time since taking the reins last summer Guardiola sent out an unchanged line-up in consecutive matches, keeping faith with the team that beat Mönchengladbach 2-0 last Friday. The decision reflected the unavailability of both Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben due to injury, with neither player making the 230 km trip across the south of Germany. Mario Mandzukic returned to the 18-man squad and took Robben’s place on the bench.

The league leaders started with Manuel Neuer in goal behind a back four of Rafinha, Jerome Boateng, Dante and David Alaba. Former VfB man and current FCB captain Philipp Lahm anchored the play, with Thiago, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Xherdan Shaqiri in midfield, and Mario Götze as the central striker.

VfB boss Thomas Schneider made two changes to the team beaten 2-1 at home by Mainz last weekend, with Rani Khedira and 17-year-old wunderkind Timo Werner taking over from Alexandru Maxim and injured veteran Christian Gentner. Former Bayern youth Georg Niedermeier took a seat among the home subs. 

Chances hard to come by

Once seasoned referee Manuel Gräfe whistled the game underway on a freezing night in Stuttgart the men in red moved quickly to assert territorial dominance, but the eager and well-organised home side made the champions’ lives very difficult and fashioned the first chance themselves when young Werner blazed over from a decent position. At the other end Shaqiri found himself clean through on VfB keeper Sven Ulreich but the Swiss schemer lobbed a tricky bouncing ball onto the roof of the net, before FCB had a let-off when Werner’s header struck Rafinha’s arm in the box, Mr Gräfe deciding it was accidental.

The sides cancelled each other out for a long spell as Guardiola’s men failed to make real headway despite seeing plenty of the ball, and when the deadlock was broken the goal came at the wrong end from a Bayern point of view: Werner’s half-blocked shot found its way via Mohammed Abdellaoue to Ibisevic and the Bosnia striker side-footed past Neuer, although both VfB Stuttgart strikers were marginally offside when Werner pulled the trigger.

FCB finally mustered a couple of openings in the five minutes before half-time, but Kroos lofted his long-range effort, Ulreich capably turned aside Thiago’s stinging drive, and Shaqiri fired wide of the target as the sides turned round with the Reds in arrears.

Second half turnaround

The first chance after the restart also fell to Schneider’s men but Ibisevic shot wide. Bayern slowly picked up the tempo and forced a series of corners, but Kroos’ shot was wayward and Müller was crowded out. Boateng was forced to clear Khedira’s downward header off the line from another Werner cross as Stuttgart broke dangerously, prompting Guardiola to switch tactics on the hour by bringing on Mandzukic and Pizarro for Shaqiri and Kroos, Götze moving to the left and Müller to the right flank.

Pizarro immediately drew a save from Ulreich after a fine Götze run, before the keeper reacted superbly on 70 minutes to deny Thiago following a fine exchange of passes with Pizarro. Ulreich threw out a leg to stop Müller’s shot as Munich swarmed around the home box, but the keeper could do no more than get a hand to Pizarro’s glancing header from a Thiago free-kick as the Peru veteran levelled with 14 minutes left.

There were chances at either end in a rousing start to the final ten minutes, but Dante blocked Abdellaoue, Neuer saved from Werner, and Mandzukic shot too close to Ulreich, before Diego Contento replaced Götze for the last couple of minutes with Alaba thrown forward for the final push. It all paid off in the third minute of added time when Thiago met Rafinha’s cross with a glorious twisting scissors kick to snatch the ultimately deserved win.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley