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Bayern left to rue early missed chances

Xabi Alonso made a fine debut for Bayern on Saturday but it was not to be a winning start for the star signing as the double winners were held 1-1 by Schalke in Gelsenkirchen, ending FCB’s impressive streak of seven straight victories against the Ruhr Valley side.

The 61,973 full house at the Veltins Arena saw Bayern race off the blocks and take a tenth-minute lead through Robert Lewandowski, although the visitors were guilty of not converting a string of further chances in a dominant first half-hour. It was a more even contest in the second period with Schalke controversially levelling on 62 minutes when Benedikt Höwedes seemingly forced the ball over the line with his hand, and although Munich pushed hard for a winner, it was not to be on the day.

The result means Pep Guardiola’s men have four points from their two league games so far and join a cluster of clubs behind fast-starters Leverkusen at the top of the nascent Bundesliga standings.

First starts for Alonso and Rode

Guardiola opted for four changes to the team that beat Wolfsburg in last week’s season opener: Alonso and Sebastian Rode made maiden starts for the Reds, with Jerome Boateng returning from suspension and Xherdan Shaqiri coming into the side. Dante, Juan Bernat and Gianluca Gaudino dropped to the bench, with Arjen Robben nursing an injury back in Munich.

It meant the holders lined up with Manuel Neuer in goal on his latest return to his former club, with Philipp Lahm, Boateng, Holger Badstuber and David Alaba at the back, Alonso, Rode and Mario Götze in midfield, and Shaqiri, Thomas Müller and Lewandowski up front.

Under-fire home coach Jens Keller was without star names Kevin-Prince Boateng and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar due to injury and illness, but did send out two World Cup winners in Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler, with former FCB man Jan Kirchhoff in midfield.

Many chances, only one goal

After referee Marco Fritz whistled play underway on a damp evening in the industrial Ruhr district, the newly-formed Bayern team settled to the task with gusto and immediate effect: home keeper Ralf Fährmann had already saved well from Müller and Lewandowski before the Pole stroked home the 10th-minute opener from ten yards following a sweet exchange of passes with Rode.

There was no let-up from Guardiola’s men, who gave the Royal Blues no time on the ball and launched one quick attack after another. Both Müller and Lewandowski came up inches short of reaching Alonso’s clever chipped free-kick, Shaqiri fizzed a shot just wide, Lewandowski was adjudged to have fouled a defender when he only had Fährmann to beat, and Alaba smote a drive into the crowd.

But Keller’s team scrapped their way into it after the half-hour and the chances no longer came thick and fast for FCB, although Schalke only had one meaningful opening of their own before the break when right-back Kaan Ayhan intercepted Neuer’s underhit clearance and lobbed towards the empty Bayern goal, only for the 50-yard effort to drift wide. 

Controversial equaliser

The game picked up intensity in the opening exchanges after the restart, with Götze making a nuisance of himself on the left edge of the box and Draxler drawing a first meaningful save from Neuer with a header, before Boateng expertly chased down and dispossessed Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting when the Cameroon man bore down on goal.

Juan Bernat and Dante replaced Götze and the limping Boateng on the hour, but the next goal came at the wrong end from a Bayern point of view when Höwedes bundled the ball past Neuer following a 62nd-minute free-kick. Lahm and his team clustered round the assistant referee to complain of handball, but referee Fritz gave the goal anyway.

Alonso had smacked the ball against Höwedes in the disputed goal incident and the Spaniard now gave way to Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg. Lewandowski fired too high from Bernat’s bouncing cross, Badstuber’s flick from a corner missed the target, and Felipe Santana pulled off a last-ditch tackle to deny FCB’s big Polish hitman as the visitors penned the Royal Blues back in their own half. But time ran out as the home side dug deep and Lahm and Co were forced to settle for a point when three had certainly been there for the taking.

Chris Hamley reporting from the Veltins Arena for