The winter break could not have come any sooner for injury-ravaged FC Bayern, but despite having ten players out through injury or illness and four youngsters on the bench they completed an excellent Hinrunde with a hard-fought 2-1 win against an energetic FSV Mainz 05. With the game all set to finish one apiece, Arjen Robben found the back of the ner right at the death to take Bayern to a record forty-five points at the half-way stage of the Bundesliga campaign – surpassing their previous mark of forty-three.
Coach Pep Guardiola had made three changes to the stating eleven that had seen off SC Freiburg in midweek, with Jérôme Boateng replacing Medhi Benatia, Danish teenager Pierre-Emile Højbjerg coming in for Robert Lewandowski and Xabi Alonso making way for returning skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger. The players on Bayern’s bench had a total of 382 Bundesliga appearances between them – with 375 for the fit-again Claudio Pizarro.
On a damp and mild Friday evening at a packed Coface Arena the home side started energetically and with plenty of purpose, playing a strong pressing game that at the beginning at least had the depleted visitors on the back foot. With just four minutes on the clock Argentinian Pablo de Blasis had the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was correctly be ruled out for offside.
Bayern slowly started to come back into the contest and on nineteen minutes looked to have opened the scoring through Arjen Robben, but like their opponents the joy was short-lived as the referee’s assistant raised his flag. This time however the decision was less clear cut, as Robben looked to be level with the last defender as he collected the ball before beating ‘keeper Loris Karius.
Bayern should have been in front, but just two minutes later conceded their first goal in the league since the beginning of November. A misplaced pass from Højbjerg left the Bayern defence in complete disarray, allowing Japanese international Shinji Okazaki to send in a cross for Colombian Elkin Soto. Soto’s low shot at the far post slipped between the legs of Manuel Neuer, leaving the Bayern ‘keeper to express his clear disappointment at conceding what was for him a very soft goal.
As if irked by their opponents’ cheeky impertinence, Die Roten were level inside three minutes. Having won a free-kick some twenty yards from goal, Schweinsteiger stepped up and deliver the sweetest of finishes to score his first goal of an injury-ravaged season. The skipper’s right-footed effort curled unerringly to the right of the flying Karius, smashing off the inside of the post before nestling in the back of the net.
Bastian Schweinsteiger delivers the perfect free-kick to bring Bayern level
Mainz continued to press in the remaining twenty or so minutes before half-time, but Guardiola’s men now had the measure of the opponents. After a number of easy Bundesliga games, finally the defending champions were being given a thorough test.
The second half saw both teams play some excellent football, but largely cancel each other out. There were plenty of half-chances at both ends, with Mainz’s Germany Under-21 international Yunus Malli testing Neuer and both Robben and Franck Ribéry going close for Bayern. Robben was once again the Bavarians’ most dangerous player, weaving his usual magic down the right and through the middle of the pitch as defenders tried their best to stop him. As Bayern slowly started to turn the screw, Karius reacted brilliantly to deny Højbjerg.
As the clock crept towards the ninety minute mark it looked as though Kasper Hjulmand’s side would claim a share of the points – something that on balance they probably deserved – a pass from Korean Park Joo Ho was seized upon by Ribery. Breaking down the left the Frenchman found Juan Bernat, and with the opposition defence at sixes and sevens the young Spanish international rolled the ball into space for the advancing Robben. With a stroke of his rarely-used right foot, the Dutchman executed the perfect finish.
Arjen Robben strikes to snatch all three points right at the death
The win takes Bayern fourteen points clear of VfL Wolfsburg at the top of the table, though the Wolves’ would later pull off a similar come-from-behind trick against 1. FC Köln to reduce the gap to eleven points. In what will surely be an exciting start to the Rückrunde at the end of January, Wolfsburg entertain Bayern at the Volkswagen Arena.
Bundesliga Week 17
Coface Arena, Mainz, 19.12.2014
1. FSV Mainz 05 1:2 (1:1) FC Bayern
Soto 21. / Schweinsteiger 24., Robben 90.
Mainz: Karius – Brosinski, Jara, Wollscheid, J.-H. Park – Geis (c), Soto – de Blasis (81. Pflücke), Malli (87. Slišković), Koo (78. Junior Diaz) – Okazaki
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Danté, Bernat – Højbjerg, Schweinsteiger (c) – Robben, Götze (77. Pizarro), Ribery (90.+2. Weiser) – Müller
Yellow Cards: Soto, Koo / –