FC Bayern made a perfect start to the second half of the season, beating Bayer Leverkusen in Friday evening's Bundesliga restart fixture. Javi Martínez opened the scoring after the half-hour, rewarding Bayern for their first-half dominance. Franck Ribéry doubled the lead in the second half, and although Kevin Volland pulled one back, James' free-kick in the dying embers of the match closed out the meeting.
Bayern started with Sven Ulreich in goal and Rafinha, Jérôme Boateng, Niklas Süle and David Alaba in a back four. James, Javi Martínez, and Arturo Vidal featured in midfield, with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry starting out wide, looking to serve Thomas Müller.
Jupp Heynckes made two changes to the XI that saw off Borussia Dortmund in the last match of 2017, Robben and Rafinha coming in for Robert Lewandowski and Joshua Kimmich. Kingsley Coman took over from Robben midway through the second half before new signing Sandro Wagner replaced Ribéry.
Javi rewards dominant Bayern
After match official Daniel Siebert whistled play underway on a chilly night at the BayArena, the Bavarians signalled their intent from the off. Three minutes had been played when Robben charged down the right to tee up fellow winger Ribéry, whose shot was blocked. The home side pressed early but Bayern staged a number of counters. Ribéry was blocked in the box before the Rhineland outfit had to resort to a foul to stop the galloping James.
Siebert had seen enough when Heiko Herrlich's men resorted to fouls in the next few minutes, Kevin Volland and Karim Bellarabi receving yellow cards for upending Martínez and Ribéry. Bayer netminder Bernd Leno proved equal to a deflected Vidal effort before Dominik Kohr miscued a header at the other end. Heynckes' troops increasingly took control now, James' belter going just wide before Bayern drew first blood, Martínez making the most of a mix-up in the box following a corner, blasting into the roof of the net. The Spaniard saw a header go wide before efforts by Robben and Vidal were blocked, and Siebert blew for half-time.
Franck twists the knife
The visitors survived a spell of Leverkusen pressure after the restart, although the first chance fell to Bayern, only for Leno to beat Müller to the ball. Lars Bender, who had ghosted past the rearguard, only just failed to connect with a deflected free-kick before Leon Bailey wriggled clear in the box, his chip clipping the top of the crossbar.
But the German record champions twisted the knife before the hour mark, James picking out Ribéry, who found a gap between Leno and the near post. The home side soon pulled one back, Volland's 18-yarder finding the net with the help of a deflection, leaving Ulreich rooted to the spot.
The goal galvanised the home side, Sven Bender seeing a header go wide before Boateng thwarted a gilt-edged chance for Volland. Tolisso took over from Müller before James settled the issue in the closing stages when Bayern were awarded a free-kick near the edge of the box. The Colombian's majestic delivery looped over the wall and into the top corner of the net before Siebert blew for full-time.
The result means Bayern have 44 points from 18 Bundesliga matches, 14 points clear of Schalke overnight. The Reds are back in action in nine days, when they entertain Werder Bremen a week on Sunday.
Greg Salmen reporting from the BayArena for fcbayern.com
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Leno - Tah, S. Bender, Wendell - Bellarabi (Henrichs 60), L. Bender, Kohr (Alario 65), Bailey - Havertz - Volland, Brandt (Mehmedi 77)
Özcan - Retsos, Baumgartlinger, Aránguiz
Ulreich - Rafinha, Boateng, Süle, Alaba - James, Martínez, Vidal - Robben (Coman 65), Müller (Tolisso 90+2), Ribéry (Wagner 79)
Starke - Kimmich, Bernat, Rudy, Tolisso
Daniel Siebert (Berlin)
0-1 Martínez (32), 0-2 Ribéry (59), 1-2 Volland (71), 1-3 James (90+1)
Volland, Bellarabi / Müller, Rafinha