Bayern Hold Title Pace
Allianz Arena, Munich – If there is to be any drama in the Bundesliga title race, teams chasing current table-topping FC Bayern München have to hope for more uninspired performances by the record German champions like the one on Saturday.
But they also have to hope for the opponent that day to pose a challenge to the Red Runaway Train.
Mario Mandzukic scored twice to provide the difference in a 2-0 bullying of soon-to-be-relegated SpVgg Greuther Fürth, maintaining Bayern’s nine-point lead over second place Bayer Leverkusen.
Despite Bayern’s domination in all offensive statistics, they could only tally two goals after many expected an avalanche of goals from the league’s most powerful offense against the league’s worst team. It wasn’t as if Munich didn’t try.
With a 22-5 advantage on total shots (5-1 on goal), 17-0 on corners, and 76-24% in possession, control was clearly with Jupp Heynckes’ men. Whether it was the cold, the winter break, or Fürth’s defensive scheme, Bayern could not get the early scores that deflate a team and feeds the offensive machine.
“We are satisfied that we won and again earned a clean sheet,” said Munich head coach Heynckes. “But my team knows that we didn’t play that well today.”
In the opening quarter hour, Fürth were able to keep the ball out of their own net. Wolfgang Hesl made a few good stops, and his defense was up to the task, clogging the lanes and marking the dangerous Daniel van Buyten and Mandzukic on the corners.
As quickly as Hesl’s play was being lauded, Mandzukic’s attempt in the 26th minute was not properly handled by the recently-turned 27-year-old, and the ball was in the net. 1-0 for Bayern. And the rout was on… or was it?
Fürth maintained their poise, never allowing Bayern to gather steam and the teams went into the break with that score.
The second half started with lineups the same, and thus the play continued. Bayern pushed, Fürth held again for the opening 15 minutes. Until Toni Kroos’ corner found Mandzukic at the back of the surge, his header didn’t seem destined for the net, but Hesl was slow to react and the ball was once again in.
Fürth head coach Michael Büskens was asked about his goalkeeper’s play and how his team could have stopped Mandzukic. “Hesl knows he has to stop those shots, we know we have to stop them. They have a whole group of players who are strong with their heads. They have four to five weapons.”
With the game in hand, the highlight for fans was the return of Arjen Robben from his long-term thigh injury that has kept him out since mid-September. He immediately tried to get in the mix, including a few plays with Franck Ribéry, but there would be no further goal celebration.
“Our play was rough, not so flowing, like we are used to, “admitted Heynckes. “But that’s perhaps a positive. We know now on what things we need to still work on.”
Bayern still have some room to stumble and are still on course to win another league title, but with such a huge lead, can the team maintain their concentration?
“We want to win titles, and we have a long way to go from now till the end of the season,” said team captain Philipp Lahm to Sport Eagle. “We will have to focus on the next weeks, it won’t be easy. We need to improve our performance and then prepare to be champs.”
As for Fürth, their loss and FC Augsburg’s win sink them deeper into the relegation hole and their place in the second flight waiting for next season.
“We built some self-confidence today, playing like we did against Bayern,” said Büskens. “It’s now our job as coach, to take the positives from this game and show the team that they can win games in this league.”
“Our belief is still strong despite all the difficulties,” said Hesl. “We need to stay positive in the coming weeks.”
Fürth host 1.FSV Mainz 05 on Saturday at Trolli Arena, while Bayern travel to west to take on VfB Stuttgart on Sunday.
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