Created on 2016-03-19 at 17:20 PM by Chris Hamley
Following an emotional and energy-sapping run of matches, Bayern signed off for the first international break of the year on a winning note in Saturday’s hard-earned 1-0 Bundesliga victory away to FC Köln, a result that sends the Reds eight points clear at the top of the table overnight.
The 49,600 full house at the RheinEnergieStadion saw Robert Lewandowski fire Pep Guardiola’s team in front after ten minutes with his 25th league goal of the season, a lead the visitors protected with supreme ease through to the interval. The men from Munich remained comfortable until midway through the second period, but their midweek exertions against Juve finally took their toll and Manuel Neuer and Co had to endure a torrid spell before wrapping up the victory.
Win number 22 in 27 matches takes the Reds up to 69 points, eight clear of second-placed Dortmund prior to the black-and-yellows’ trip to Augsburg on Sunday. The domestic league now takes a two-week break before the Bavarians return to action at home to struggling Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday 2 April.
Five changes, start for Rode
Bayern boss Guardiola made five changes to the team that overcame Juventus 4-2 after 120 pulsating Champions League minutes in midweek. Sebastian Rode, Rafinha, Thiago, Kingsley Coman and Juan Bernat started in place of Philipp Lahm, Arturo Vidal, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Mehdi Benatia, with the Moroccan not even in the matchday squad.
It meant the league leaders lined up with captain for the day Neuer in goal, Rafinha, David Alaba, Joshua Kimmich and Bernat in the back four, Xabi Alonso, Rode and Thiago in midfield, Coman and Douglas Costa on the flanks, and Lewandowski at centre-forward.
After referee Tobias Welz whistled play underway, the Reds smoothly settled into their controlled possession game against the ultra-defensive home team and took the lead with their first chance, Lewandowski brilliantly capitalising on Dominique Heintz’ underhit clearance to curl a first-time shot past home keeper Timo Horn ten minutes into the contest.
Costa was proving a real handful out on the left and also whipped a direct free-kick just wide of the target midway through the half. Clear-cut chances were at a premium but such was Bayern’s dominance that the Billy Goats’ first attack worthy of the name came with more than half an hour on the clock.
The visitors were content to let the ball do the work for long spells after that, and a Marcel Risse shot over the bar and a looping Thiago header apart, there were no goalmouth incidents through to the end of the half.
Tense second half
The league leaders fashioned the first chance of the second half but Lewandowski could not connect cleanly with Costa’s centre, before Leon Bittencourt directed Köln’s first shot on goal straight at Neuer. Vidal replaced Alonso after 54 minutes, before FCB had a shout for a penalty turned down when Mergim Mavraj seemed to handle Rode’s cross in the box.
Risse blasted another free-kick into the crowd after a rare Köln attacking foray, before Thiago turned a Costa cross past the post and Anthony Modeste steered a Risse centre wide of Neuer’s goal. With the home side finally making a fist of it, Ribery replaced Costa for the last 20 minutes, but Neuer and Kimmich had to look sharp to deny the onrushing Modeste in the 75th minute.
Guardiola sent on Lahm for Rode to shore things up for the last quarter of an hour, and the captain helped steady the ship in the face of Köln’s late rally. At the other end Horn saved well from Lewandowski on the break and Coman lofted a good chance over the bar, before Neuer saved at the death from Bittencourt as the Reds held out for a workmanlike win.
Chris Hamley reporting from the RheinEnergieStadion for fcbayern.de