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Match-winner Müller

FCB stretch lead with workmanlike end-of-year win

Bayern made light of a serious end-of-year injury crisis and rounded off the first half of the 2015/16 Bundesliga campaign with a tight but fully deserved 1-0 victory away to struggling Hannover 96 in Saturday’s final match of the year, ensuring the Reds consolidate their position as league leaders in the winter break.

The 49,000 capacity crowd at the HDI Arena saw Pep Guardiola’s vastly superior team build up a real head of first-half steam, but Robert Lewandowski crashed a shot off the post and home keeper Ron-Robert Zieler made a string of great saves before Thomas Müller broke the deadlock with a 40th-minute penalty. The home side looked a lot more solid in the second half without ever seriously troubling the visitors, who were content to do the necessary and book the three points.

The champions’ 15th win in the 17 matches to date means FCB head into the mid-season break at the top of the table on 46 points, now eight clear of second-placed Dortmund after Borussia’s defeat to Köln in a parallel fixture. The Bavarians return to competitive action in the New Year at 20.30 CET on Friday 22 January when they get Bundesliga Matchday 18 underway at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion.

Starts for Thiago and Badstuber

Bayern coach Guardiola made two changes to the team that beat Darmstadt 1-0 in the midweek cup tie, with Thiago and Holger Badstuber taking over from Joshua Kimmich and injured skipper Philipp Lahm.

The captain joined an injury roster of crisis proportions also including David Alaba, Mehdi Benatia, Franck Ribery, Mario Götze, Juan Bernat, Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa, which in turn meant FCB had only three outfield players on the bench: Kimmich, Sebastian Rode and Jan Kirchhoff.

The team that took to the field comprised Manuel Neuer in goal, a nominal back three of Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and Badstuber, Xabi Alonso in the holding position, Rafinha, Arturo Vidal and Thiago in midfield, and a front three of Kingsley Coman, Müller and Lewandowski.

One up at the break

After referee Manuel Gräfe whistled play underway on a mild afternoon in Lower Saxony the match opened explosively with a gilt-edged chance at either end. On five minutes Thiago brilliantly controlled Vidal’s chip but Zieler produced a stunning reaction save to deny the Spaniard from barely six yards, before Neuer just managed to fingertip Leon Andreasen’s header from Miiko Albornoz’ cross onto the crossbar three minutes later.

The visitors imposed their patient passing game after that and chances came from the midpoint of the half onwards. Zieler saved from Coman, Müller and Vidal came close, and Lewandowski crashed a left-foot curler off the far post, with Zieler scrambling Müller’s follow-up off the line.

The pressure was intense with Coman coming up inches short and Thiago cracking a shot just wide, before the Reds took a long-overdue lead five minutes from half-time when Müller coolly converted a spot-kick awarded for home captain Christian Schulz’ blatant handball from Coman’s driven cross.

Composed second half

The Bavarians remained on the front foot in the early stages of the second half with Thiago flashing a drive narrowly wide of the target, Vidal shooting too close to Zieler, and the H96 keeper beating away Lewandowski’s next effort. Guardiola’s men came close with a well-rehearsed free-kick routine only for Martinez to snatch his shot from Müller’s 57th-minute knockdown, and the home team now enjoyed a slightly better spell with Edgar Prib aiming not far over Neuer’s goal.

The league leaders were making a shade less headway now and their coach reacted by bringing on Kimmich for Badstuber on 73 minutes. Zieler comfortably dealt with Müller’s shot and Coman speared a low drive wide of the near post, before Rode replaced the hobbling Vidal as the match and the footballing year drew to a close.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley