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FSV Mainz 0 Bayern 2

Reds strike late to down stubborn Mainz

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Bayern moved to within an ace of a 24th German championship on Saturday thanks to a record-breaking 18th straight Bundesliga win, although fifth-placed FSV Mainz pushed the treble winners all the way before Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Götze settled a fluid and always absorbing contest in the final ten minutes. The treble winners are now unbeaten in their last 51 league games and require only a point to defend the league title.

The 34,000 capacity crowd at the Coface Arena saw a breathless start with chances at both ends, but the goalmouth action soon died down as the aggressive home side pressed high up the field and denied the champions-elect space. FCB slowly but surely threw off the shackles in the course of an absorbing second half and camped out in the final third, the reward coming in the closing stages with the double strike from Schweinsteiger and sub Götze.

A 24th win from 26 matches this term means FCB now have 74 points, 23 clear of second-placed Dortmund. The Bavarians can wrap up the league title once and for all on Tuesday when they travel to the German capital for the meeting with Hertha BSC Berlin.

Four new faces

Guardiola made four changes to the team from last week’s 2-1 victory over Leverkusen, with Rafinha, Daniel van Buyten, Diego Contento and Mario Götze giving way to Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez, David Alaba and Franck Ribery. Dante is suspended for the first leg of the Champions League meeting with Manchester United in ten days’ time and took a seat on the bench, and Thiago was omitted from the squad with a thigh problem.

The champions started with Manuel Neuer in goal, Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Martinez and captain Lahm in defence, Toni Kroos and Schweinsteiger in holding positions, Ribery and Arjen Robben out wide, and Thomas Müller tucked in behind centre-forward Mario Mandzukic.

Mainz boss Thomas Tuchel sent out a more defensive variant of his high-flying side with a 4-3-2-1 formation, although Korean hitman Ja-Cheol Koo, Japan regular Shinji Okazaki and Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting promised plenty of attacking intent.

First-half stalemate

After referee Tobias Stieler whistled the match underway the sides set off at a brisk pace and there were early chances at either end: home keeper Loris Karius blocked Robben’s eight-yard drive with his knee, Neuer raced from goal to deny the charging Koo, Alaba fizzed a shot across goal, and Neuer stood up to save from Nicolai Müller.

The contest remained open for a long period as the energetic home side gave as good as they got, although the clear-cut chances dried up for a time. FCB’s passing began to take on more structure with the half-hour approaching and Robben was hustled off the ball while shaping to shoot, with Ribery and Thomas Müller swapping flanks in an effort to shake things up, but Mainz maintained their aggressive pressing and made life hard for Guardiola’s men.

Kroos slightly got under his effort from the edge of the box and Mandzukic just failed to connect with a Lahm cross, but the game remained deadlocked at the break.

Late but deserved win

Former Munich youth Benedikt Saller took over from the hobbling Koo for the second period, which opened with a let off for FCB when Choupo-Moting cracked an angled drive off the crossbar with Neuer beaten. But Bayern struck back and Mainz skipper Nikolce Noveski lunged to halt Alaba’s thrust, Mandzukic headed wide at the far post from the ensuing corner, and Karius acrobatically saved Mandzu’s thumping header from Alaba’s teasing cross.

Martinez flicked a header across the face of Karius’s goal as Munich began to stamp their authority on the play, but the next chance fell at the other end when Choupo-Moting blasted over with the goal well within his sights. The visitors responded at once but Karius saved Robben’s skimming drive and Müller shot over, the Germany international’s last intervention before giving way to Götze on 64 minutes.

The outstanding Karius saved brilliantly from Ribery after the Frenchman wriggled his way into a shooting position, with Xherdan Shaqiri taking over from Robben for the last 20 minutes. Munich kept their collective feet on the gas but Mainz pulled everyone back and gaps were few and far between. Claudio Pizarro replaced Mandzukic for the last ten minutes and Alaba dragged a shot wide, before Shaq crossed for Schweinsteiger to break the deadlock with a fine header eight minutes from time. Tuchel’s men threw caution to the wind now, allowing Ribery the time and space to square unselfishly for Götze to wrap up the points in the 86th minute with a shot into the empty Mainz net.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley