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South German showdown

Resolute Reds down stubborn Stuttgart

Bayern came a step closer to an unprecedented fourth Bundesliga title in a row with Saturday’s hard-earned but deserved 3-1 Bundesliga victory away to VfB Stuttgart, the 15th time in a row the Reds have beaten their southern rivals in competitive fixtures and a welcome boost for Pep Guardiola and his men ahead of Wednesday’s crucial Champions League quarter-final return away to Benfica.

The 60,000 full house at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena saw the home side frustrate the leaders for the first half-hour, but a moment of Franck Ribery magic led to former FCB man Georg Niedermeier putting through his own goal after 31 minutes. David Alaba opened his Bundesliga scoring account seven minutes after the restart to double FCB’s lead, and although Daniel Didavi pulled one back on 63 minutes the champions held out comfortably enough and sub Douglas Costa cracked an 88th-minute third to make absolutely sure of the three points.

A 24th win in 29 league games means FCB move onto 75 points, once again eight clear of second-placed Dortmund ahead of the black-and-yellows’ Ruhr derby meeting with Schalke on Sunday. Following the do-or-die clash in Lisbon, the Bavarians return to domestic league action next Saturday evening at home to Europe-chasing Schalke.

Pep rotates, Götze starts

Bayern boss Guardiola made four changes to the team that earned a narrow 1-0 home success against Benfica last Tuesday. Mario Götze, Javi Martinez, Rafinha and Xabi Alonso started in place of Philipp Lahm, Costa, Thiago and Thomas Müller, who all joined backup keeper Sven Ulreich, Serdar Tasci and Sebastian Rode on the subs’ bench.

The league leaders lined up with captain for the day Manuel Neuer in goal, Rafinha, Joshua Kimmich, Martinez, Alaba and Juan Bernat in a nominal back five, Alonso and Arturo Vidal in midfield, and Götze, Ribery and Robert Lewandowski in attack.

Franck sets up opener

After referee Bastian Dankert whistled play underway on a cloudy afternoon in Swabia, the visitors dominated possession from the start and Ribery only just failed to convert from Götze’s well-timed run and cross, although Neuer was forced into a fine reaction save to deny Wolfsburg-bound Daniel Didavi from an inswinging Filip Kostic free-kick.

FCB were finding the going tough and the contest developed a physical edge. Vidal collected a yellow card and then flirted with a second, prompting Guardiola to send on Müller for the Chilean after 27 minutes. The change paid immediate dividends with the Germany striker setting up Götze, but the opening goal on 31 minutes was created by the twisting and turning Ribery whose driven cut-back was turned over his own line by a combination of Niedermeier and VfB keeper Przemyslaw Tyton.

Lewandowski had pressured Niedermeier into the error and the Pole put the next chance just wide before narrowly failing to find Müller with a dinked cross, with Bernat’s chip deflected onto the roof of the net in the last move of the half.

David and Douglas on target

The first real chance of the second half brought a second goal for lively Munich with Alaba firing left-footed through Toni Sunjic’s legs and past the unsighted Tyton at the near post. It all seemed done and dusted but the Reds were jolted awake after 63 minutes when Didavi fortuitously netted from a seated position after a scramble in front of Neuer and a deflection off Lewandowski.

Thiago replaced Götze midway through the second period as Guardiola’s men sought to regain the initiative, the Spanish substitute drawing a diving save from Tyton and then just failing to connect with a Rafinha lay-off, before cursing his luck when Tyton finger-tipped a superb curling effort onto the crossbar and away to safety.

Costa took over from Kimmich for the closing stages as the Reds chased the goal that would make the game safe, a strike that duly arrived in the 88th minute when Costa drove home from 20 yards after great build-up work by Lewandowski.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley