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Bayern 1 Hertha Berlin 0

Champagne on ice for champions-elect FCB

Super Bayern effectively sealed the 2014/15 Bundesliga title with four games to spare thanks to a narrow 1-0 victory over stubborn Hertha Berlin on Saturday, as only the most improbable of circumstances can now deny the Reds a 25th German league crown. With the league done and dusted, Pep Guardiola and his men can focus fully on the Champions League and more immediately on Tuesday’s win-or-bust DFB Cup semi-final clash with arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund.

The 75,000 full house at the Allianz Arena saw Guardiola’s side struggle for first-half chances against Pal Dardai’s well-organised, hard-running visitors and Manuel Neuer made a world-class save to deny Nico Schulz on the hour, but FCB showed patience and Bastian Schweinsteiger crashed home the winner from Mitch Weiser’s terrific assist with ten minutes to go.

The latest victory means Bayern are champions in all but name on 76 points, 15 clear of Wolfsburg with only four matches left. However, the Wolves can delay the official title celebration for another week if they defeat Mönchengladbach on Sunday evening, as they would retain a theoretical but barely conceivable chance of catching the leaders.

Following the cup cracker against BVB, the Bavarians’ next match is the Bundesliga trip to Leverkusen next Saturday evening, before all eyes turn to the Champions League semi-final first leg against mighty Barcelona at Camp Nou the following Wednesday.

Vice-captain Basti returns

With the Dortmund clash in mind, Guardiola again started with Sebastian Rode, Weiser and 18-year-old Gianluca Gaudino in midfield, with Juan Bernat, Thiago and Xabi Alonso all rested. Schweinsteiger was an unused sub against Porto in midweek but returned to the starting eleven, captain Philipp Lahm filling in at full-back in the absence of the injured Rafinha.

On the bench, Javi Martínez made a hugely welcome return to the squad after missing the whole of the season so far with a torn cruciate. However, the injury roster at the club is still long as the unlucky Holger Badstuber joined a list still including Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, David Alaba, Mehdi Benatia and Tom Starke.

The champions-elect, starting with nine Germany-qualified players for the first time in more than 15 years, began with Neuer in goal, Jerome Boateng, Dante and Lahm in a back three, Schweinsteiger in the holding role, Rode, Gaudino and Weiser across the midfield, and Mario Götze, Thomas Müller and centre-forward Robert Lewandowski in attack.

First-half stalemate

The visitors took the early initiative once referee Guido Winkmann whistled play underway with Dante deflecting Marvin Plattenhardt’s effort into his own side-netting and Swiss marksman Valentin Stocker failing to convert a tricky chance from a Schulz cross.

But the home team settled to the task on the quarter-hour with Müller heading wide and Hertha keeper Sascha Burchert, a late replacement for injured regular and former FCB man Thomas Kraft, called into action against Gaudino and Müller.

Salomon Kalou fired high and wide at the other end, but for the most part the ex-Chelsea man and his team-mates turned in a disciplined display and stifled most of Munich’s ideas in midfield as the first half remained goalless.

Weiser’s fine assist

Guardiola sent on 18-year-old talent Sinan Kurt for his Bayern debut in place of Gaudino after the interval, but the first incident of note was when Neuer himself took a throw-in down near the corner flag as Hertha stuck doggedly to their plan of containment. However, the FCB keeper was soon called into more conventional action, comfortably saving Stocker’s grubber but making a superb stop on 55 minutes to deny the charging Schulz.

Kurt made a good early impression and was denied only by Burchert’s dash from goal on 62 minutes, before Thiago replaced Müller and Claudio Pizarro took over from Götze. Boateng effectively joined the attack as an auxiliary playmaker for the last 15 minutes, but it was Lewandowski who drew a great save from Burchert with a powerful header from Thiago’s corner.

Real urgency entered FCB’s play now and Schweinsteiger’s header from Boateng’s cross struck the upright, but Weiser made the difference on 80 minutes with a mazy dribble and precise cut-back for the vice-captain to blast home the winner from 14 yards. The scorer and Lewandowski had half-chances before the end but the outcome ultimately stayed the same.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley