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Reds stretch unbeaten run to 50 games

Super Bayern stretched their extraordinary unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga to 50 games and also won their 17th straight league fixture with a 2-0 victory over fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, although it was a laboured encounter at times between teams who were both in European action a few days ago. The result together with a defeat for Dortmund earlier in the day means FCB can theoretically wrap up their 24th German championship next weekend at an earlier point in the season than ever before.

The 71,000 full house at the Allianz Arena saw Pep Guardiola’s side struggle to create chances against the deep-lying visitors in a dour first half, but FCB picked up the pace with half-time approaching and Mario Mandzukic headed the 44th-minute opener. Bastian Schweinsteiger doubled the advantage seven minutes after the restart with a superb direct free-kick and FCB bossed the play without undue difficulty through to the close, although Manuel Neuer was robbed of a clean sheet when Stefan Kießling pulled one back for the subdued visitors in stoppage time.

A 23rd win from 25 fixtures takes FCB onto 71 points, 23 ahead of second-placed Dortmund with only nine games to play. The Bavarians are back in Bundesliga action next Saturday when they travel to high-flying Mainz.

Six new faces

Guardiola made six changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Arsenal and progressed to the Champions League last eight in midweek. Jerome Boateng, Diego Contento, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Rafinha and Daniel van Buyten came into the team in place of David Alaba, Dante, Javi Martinez, Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery and Thiago.

The Reds lined up with Manuel Neuer in goal and Rafinha, Boateng, van Buyten and Contento in defence. Schweinsteiger and former Leverkusen man Kroos anchored the midfield, with Arjen Robben, Müller and Mario Götze in attacking midfield, and Mandzukic at centre-forward.

Bayer also played in the Champions League during the week, losing 2-1 away to Paris St Germain, and coach Sami Hyypiä also made six changes to his team, bringing in the likes of fit-again Lars Bender, hitman Stefan Kießling, and South Korean regular Heung-Min Son.

Mandzu on target

After referee Markus Schmidt whistled the match underway on an unpleasantly cold evening in the Bavarian capital, Schweinsteiger was the first to try his luck with two long-range sighters in the early stages, before Bayer keeper Bernd Leno got down sharply to deal with Arjen Robben’s low drive. But Leverkusen are not third in the table for nothing and FCB enjoyed a let-off in the 11th minute when Son slid a shot past the post from eight yards with only Neuer to beat.

Hyypiä’s men had settled now and it was an even contest for a spell, with Müller’s hoofed volley into the crowd the only effort resembling a chance. The disciplined visitors held the leaders at bay and occasionally posed a threat, with Neuer forced to acrobatically tip over a 30-yard Simon Rolfes piledriver on the half-hour.

The home side picked up the pace with half-time approaching and began to make inroads into Leno’s box but Müller again aimed too high, with Neuer forced to stretch at the other end in dealing with a dipping Gonzalo Castro corner. The breakthrough came on 44 minutes and was simplicity itself, Schweinsteiger floating over a cross from the right and Mandzukic rising above the visiting defence to power a header past the helpless Leno.


Assured second period

The second half opened with FCB on the attack and the champions-elect doubled their lead in the 52nd minute when Rolfes chopped down Götze on the edge of the box, Schweinsteiger curling a perfect free-kick beyond Leno’s reach and in at the top corner off the underside of the bar.

The Reds were comfortably on top now as Bayer retreated into damage limitation mode, with Guardiola sending on Ribery for Robben with 66 minutes played. The Frenchman was soon causing trouble with his darting runs, before Leno brilliantly saved a Kroos thunderbolt and Mandzukic gave way to Xherdan Shaqiri.

With Thiago also on for Kroos, the men in red roused themselves again in the closing stages with Götze buzzing around the box to great effect, but a Schweinsteiger free-kick crashed into the defensive wall, Leno saved superbly from Götze and Müller stabbed wide from close range. Kießling’s stoppage time consolation for Bayer did nothing to take the gloss off a fully deserved home win and another three points for the Reds.

Chris Hamley reporting from the Allianz Arena for