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FSV Mainz 1 Bayern 2

Reds sign off for Xmas with last-gasp win

Despite losing no fewer than ten players to injury and illness, irresistible Bayern completed the second-best ever first half of a season in Bundesliga history with a hard-fought but deserved 2-1 victory in a hugely entertaining contest away to Mainz on Friday, Arjen Robben’s 90th-minute winner ultimately separating the sides. In a streak packed with superlatives, FCB are now unbeaten in 21 league games and have dropped a paltry six points in total this term, conceding a miserly four goals along the way.

The 34,000 capacity crowd at the Coface Arena saw Pep Guardiola’s men endure a torrid opening spell against the energised home team, with Elkin Soto opening for Mainz midway through the first period. But FCB bounced back at once through Bastian Schweinsteiger’s stunning direct free-kick and were the better of two good teams as the frantic action continued through to the interval. The visitors slowly but surely gained the upper hand as the second half wore on, although it seemed destined to end in a draw until Robben’s dramatic last-gasp intervention.

A 14th win in 17 league fixtures takes FCB up to 45 points, a massive 14 clear of chief pursuers Wolfsburg prior to the Wolves’ meeting with Köln on Saturday evening. The Munich stars now go on Christmas leave until 7 January next year, before the mouth-watering prospect of the official Bundesliga restart fixture away to Wolfsburg on Friday 30 January.

Three enforced changes

Guardiola made three injury-enforced changes to the team that eased to victory over Freiburg on Tuesday, with Jerome Boateng and Schweinsteiger replacing Mehdi Benatia and Xabi Alonso, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in for Robert Lewandowski, although the latter was obviously not a like-for-like swap, with Thomas Müller taking over the central striking duties instead.

Both Sebastian Rode and Xherdan Shaqiri were late withdrawals from the matchday squad with illness, so there were seats on the bench for youngsters Lukas Scholl, Gianluca Gaudino, Sinan Kurt and Mitch Weiser.

The champions lined up with Manuel Neuer in goal, Rafinha, Dante, Boateng and Juan Bernat in defence, Hojbjerg and captain Schweinsteiger in midfield, Franck Ribery and Robben out wide, and Mario Götze tucked in behind Müller at the focal point of the forward line.

Basti cancels out Soto’s opener

Once referee Felix Zwayer set the game in motion on a damp night in the state of Hesse, Kasper Hjulmand’s home team came out with all guns blazing and Pablo de Blasis glanced a fourth-minute header past Neuer from Ja-Cheol Koo’s whipped cross, but the FCB defence had successfully sprung the offside trap. The Reds were given no time to settle by the aggressive home side and nearly a quarter of an hour had gone before Müller saw his team’s first decent chance blocked by Gonzalo Jara.

Robben had the ball in the net on 19 minutes but was left to complain bitterly about a tight offside call, and it got worse for the visitors two minutes later when Japan international Shinji Okazaki found Soto unmarked at the back stick, the Colombia hitman angling a left-foot shot through Neuer’s legs for the opening goal. But the champions were behind for less than three minutes thanks to their captain on the night, as it was Schweinsteiger who curled a perfect free-kick over the Mainz wall, past keeper Loris Karius’ despairing dive and in off the inside of the post.

The sides neutralised each other in the period after the equaliser, before the league leaders took control in the ten minutes leading up to half-time. But Hjulmand’s men remained extremely dangerous on the break and Neuer stood his ground well to pluck Yunus Malli’s attempted lob out of the air in the last incident of the first half.

Dramatic finale

The teams maintained the frantic pace after the break with Neuer forced into a fine diving save from the charging Malli, but the Bavarians increasingly tightened their grip on proceedings with both Robben and Ribery guiding shots close to the target and Boateng heading too close to Karius. Home skipper Johannes Geis just managed to deflect Hojbjerg’s goalbound piledriver away for a corner, but it took a cool intervention from Bernat to deny De Blasis as the Argentine charged onto a Malli pass.

Claudio Pizarro made his comeback from injury in place of the tiring Götze after 77 minutes, but Mainz were defending in depth now and chances were hard to come by. Müller netted only to be pulled back for a foul, but there was drama in the last minute of normal time when Ribery released Bernat and Robben arrived in the six-yard box to meet the Spaniard’s cross and side-foot the winning goal over the line.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley