Created on 21-11-2015 at 20:19 PM by Chris Hamley
Bayern showed great tenacity and endeavour on Saturday to secure a narrow but deserved 3-1 victory away to Schalke, stretching the gap in the table between themselves and second-placed Borussia Dortmund to eight points and sealing a morale-boosting win prior to Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Olympiacos in Munich.
The 62,271 full house at the Veltins Arena saw David Alaba open the scoring after nine minutes with a deflected shot, but Max Meyer levelled only eight minutes later, and for all the visitors’ dominance of possession the game remained deadlocked at the break. The champions piled on the pressure after half-time and Javi Martinez headed his side back in front with 69 minutes played, before Thomas Müller made it three with the last kick of an entertaining and high-octane contest.
A twelfth win in thirteen matches so far this term means the Reds move onto 37 points, eight clear of Dortmund on 29 and 13 ahead of third-placed Wolfsburg, with Schalke now a yawning 17 points adrift in seventh. After the midweek European tie, the Bavarians return to Bundesliga action at home to high-flying Hertha Berlin on Saturday.
Four new faces for FCB
Bayern boss Pep Guardiola made four changes to the team that beat VfB Stuttgart 4-0 two weeks ago, restoring captain Philipp Lahm, Martinez, Xabi Alonso and Mehdi Benatia to the line-up in place of Kingsley Coman, Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng and Rafinha, who all took seats on the bench.
The league leaders started with ex-Royal Blue Manual Neuer in goal, Alaba, Benatia, Martinez and Lahm in defence, Alonso and Arturo Vidal in central midfield, Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa out wide, and Müller in behind Robert Lewandowski up front.
For the home team, coach Andre Breitenreiter welcomed back Germany World Cup winner Benedikt Höwedes after injury, and also handed a chance to on-loan FCB midfielder Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg.
Stalemate at the break
The evening opened with an impeccably-observed silence in tribute to the victims of the Paris terror attacks, but once referee Tobias Stieler whistled play underway on a chilly night in Gelsenkirchen, the Reds pressed the Royal Blues back into their own third right from the start and were rewarded after a ninth-minute corner when Leon Goretzka deflected Alaba’s long-range effort unstoppably past home keeper Ralf Fährmann.
Lewandowski fired just wide of the far stick and Müller almost punished Fährmann’s botched clearance, but Breitenreiter’s men were level after 17 minutes when Leroy Sané sent Meyer scampering clear, the Germany U-21 talent curling a low shot past Neuer’s despairing dive.
It was a much more even contest for a spell after that with Schalke sporadically shaking off the Bayern stranglehold and restricting the leaders to half-chances. Costa twice tried his luck but aimed too high, with blue-shirted defenders thwarting both Müller and Lewandowski on the point of shooting. Robben called a fraction offside as he bore down on goal, and Müller’s shot on the turn devoid of power.
Javi with the crucial second
After a wary start to the second period, the first chance fell to Lewandowski, but he too failed to strike an angled effort cleanly. Sané skewed wide at the other end from a fast counter-attack, before Müller warmed Fährmann’s gloves and Benatia headed a free-kick over the bar.
The men in red upped the tempo on the hour and Robben was only denied by a last-ditch tackle, but it was the Dutchman who supplied a pinpoint 69th-minute cross for the lurking Martinez to head past Fährmann and restore his side’s lead.
Guardiola’s team refused to let up and now went in search of the goal that would seal it once and for all, but Robben’s header flew over the bar. Boateng, Rafinha and Kimmich replaced Benatia, Alaba and Robben for the closing stages as the visitors battled away and ultimately closed out a tight but merited win, Lewandowski hitting a post as Schalke went for broke, before Müller’s stoppage-time third added a touch of icing to the cake.
Chris Hamley reporting from the Veltins Arena for fcbayern.de