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Bavarian derby success

Resolute Reds return to winning ways

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Bayern bounced back from last week’s first Bundesliga defeat of the 2015/16 campaign with a hard-earned but merited 2-0 home win in Saturday’s Bavarian derby against top flight newcomers FC Ingolstadt, ensuring the Reds will spend the winter break as league leaders. It is the fifth time in a row that FCB have won the so-called autumn championship, the unofficial title awarded to the team top of the standings at the midpoint of the season.

The 75,000 capacity crowd at the Allianz Arena saw Pep Guardiola’s reshaped side batter away at the league’s second-best defence but struggle to create clear-cut chances in a closely-fought encounter, Robert Lewandowski seeing the best opening of the first half hacked off the line. The Pole finally broke the deadlock with a superb 65th-minute finish, before captain Philipp Lahm made it safe with a second 15 minutes from time.

A 14th win in 16 matches takes leaders FCB onto 43 points and restores their eight-point lead in the table, although Borussia Dortmund can cut the deficit to five if they beat Frankfurt on Sunday. The Bavarians are back in action on Tuesday at home to Darmstadt in the DFB Cup Round of 16, before the final Bundesliga fixture of the year away to Hannover next Saturday afternoon.

Half a dozen changes

Bayern coach Guardiola made no fewer than six changes to the team that beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 in midweek. Manuel Neuer, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller and Arturo Vidal started in place of Sven Ulreich, Julian Green, Mehdi Benatia, Franck Ribery, Sebastian Rode and Xabi Alonso.

Benatia and Ribery joined a long injury roster also including Mario Götze, Juan Bernat, Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa and David Alaba, with Rode and Alonso making up exactly half of Bayern’s total of only four outfield players on the bench.

It all meant the home team began with Neuer in goal, Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber and Lahm in defence, Javi Martinez in the holding position, and a front five of Coman, Vidal, Joshua Kimmich, Müller and Lewandowski.

Nil-nil at the break

After referee Michael Weiner whistled play underway on an unseasonably mild afternoon in the Bavarian capital, the crowd witnessed an even contest  for much of the first half as the visitors pressed high up the field and the champions sought in vain to unpick their opponents’ solid defence.

There was a scare for Guardiola and the home crowd after quarter of an hour when Badstuber collected a bloody cut above the eye in an aerial collision with Lukas Hinterseer, the defender requiring ten minutes of treatment before returning with his head heavily bandaged.

It took fully 25 minutes before the Reds created their first chance of note, Lewandowski racing clear onto Kimmich’s through ball and delicately lobbing FCI’s Austrian keeper Ramazan Özcan, only for French centre-back Romain Bregerie to clear off the line.

It remained tough going for the leaders and the visitors even threatened to score in the ten minutes before the break, but Neuer prevented his side falling behind  with saves from Tobias Levels, Pascal Groß, Brazilian midfielder Roger, Stefan Lex and Hinterseer. 

Second half breakthrough

The home side emerged for the second half with a real sense of purpose and Özcan made a good save from the onrushing Lahm five minutes after the restart, before Guardiola opted to inject more creativity by sending on Thiago for the subdued Vidal. FCI keeper Özcan then excelled in blocking Lewandowski’s cheeky backheel, the Pole scooping the rebound over the bar, but it was Neuer’s turn to shine in the 58th minute when he denied Lex from point-blank range.

Bayern upped the pressure after the hour and Özcan saved at Müller’s feet, before Boateng set up the 65th-minute breakthrough with a superb long ball to release Lewandowski, the striker jinking round the FCI keeper and finishing brilliantly from the tightest of angles.

Alonso replaced Boateng for the last 20 minutes and the Reds doubled their efforts to wrap it up, Lewandowski and Müller both going close before Lahm stroked home a 75th-minute second after great build-up play from Voman and Müller. The Germany striker gave way to Rode for the closing stages as the champions closed out a patient and ultimately deserved success against very worthy opponents.