Bayern Munich returned to health Sunday against a strong Schalke squad at the Allianz Arena, winning 2-0. The win keeps Bayern’s treble hopes alive, although they still trail Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table by four points following Dortmund’s win over Hannover in the later Sunday game.
Going into winter break in great shape, the Bavarians haven’t had the type of 2012 that their fans expect, losing to Borussia Monchengladbach, being drawn by Hamburg and Freiberg away from home and losing to FC Basel earlier this week in Champions League play. Rumblings at the huge club saw team management blame refereeing decisions for their woes and a healthy Arjen Robben benched with the resulting controversy such a move would cause.
But led by Frenchman Franck Ribéry Sunday, all looked well again for Jupp Heynckes troops despite the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Toni Kroos was an unused substitute as Luis Gustavo and David Alaba, along with Robben, made the starting XI. For Huub Stevens’ Schalke side, which advanced to the Europa League’s round of 16 Thursday and defeated Wolfsburg 4-0 last weekend in league play, veteran goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand again deputized for the injured Lars Unnerstall.
Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Lahm – Luiz Gustavo, Alaba – Robben, T. Müller (Tymoshchuk 89′), Ribéry – Gomez (Olic 72′)
Schalke: Hildebrand – Höwedes, Papadopoulos, Metzelder (Uchida 84′), C. Fuchs – Matip (Holtby 65′), Höger – Farfan, Raul, Draxler (Obasi 57′) – Huntelaar
First Half: Both Sides Wasteful
The great Raul had the first chance of the match, two minutes after kickoff, but his header missed, as did another chance for the iconic Spaniard on a setpiece from Jefferson Farfan. Two minutes, two Raul headers, no goals. The early missed opportunities, including another header missed at the 12 minute mark by Kyriakos Papadopoulos, seemed to foreshadow Schalke’s day as Manuel Neuer made four saves in route to his clean sheet.
Not that Bayern Munich weren’t getting frustrated either. Hildebrand and Schalke’s defense were up to the task of denying goal-scoring attempts by Robben, Gustavo, Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber early on, and Muller missed on a chance in the 24th minute. But Bayern got their goal in the 36th minute, when the energetic and willful Ribéry beat Hildebrand on an excellent ball from the Brazilian Gustavo on the counter after Neuer saved a header from Joel Matip. Ribéry was denied a second goal of the first 45 minutes, and Badstuber somehow missed from close range with Bayern only holding a 1-0 lead going into intermission as Schalke’s Christian Fuchs forced a late save from Neuer.
Second Half: More Ribery
The second half began with a flourish as Badstuber’s header from a corner kick hit the Schalke goalframe, while defender Matip missed a shot that would have tied the match. Wasteful Schalke were punished when Ribéry again struck, this time ten minutes after intermission, following a patented Ribéry run towards the middle from the left flank after exchanging passes with Muller. Ribéry’s shot deflected slightly off the unlucky Papadopoulos.
Ribery’s second goal confirmed his mastery of this contest. It also seemed to deflate a Schalke side perhaps fatigued from their intense Europa League series with a determined Viktoria Plzeň side. Only a fine save from Hildebrand kept Schalke from suffering a three goal defeat as Robben’s late shot brought out the best in Schalke’s third-call keeper. The red-clad Bavarians outshot the Royal Blues by a 23-12 margin and dominated in corner kicks earned, 10-3.
Although it may be an exaggeration to claim that this was a “must-win” fixture for Bayern Munich, it certainly was the result that the team (and their fans) desperately needed. For a team steeped in excellence, the pressure to earn the salad bowl provided by four other legitimate Bundesliga aspirants may have been a distraction for the Bavarians, but certainly they haven’t been on their feed. Their win over Schalke was exactly the tonic prescribed, as it not only will hopefully rejuvenate Bayern but put a dent in the title hopes of Die Knappen, creating more breathing room for red-clad side from Munich to hunt down the upstart Dortmund club that looks very capable of defending their title.
Both Alaba and Gustavo covered more ground than any of their Schalke rivals Sunday, each exceeding 12 km, while Phillip Lahm led all players on the pitch with 96 touches while completing 70 of 80 passes. But Ribéry certainly was the difference-maker today, second only to Lahm in touches while constantly emitting danger while leading his club in recovered duels. The diminutive winger is certainly playing as well as ever as he heads to the French national team camp for their friendly February 29 against his German teammates and league rivals. Today Ribéry only took four shots, but two found the back of the net.
Meanwhile Schalke were punished for their inability to convert their chances early on. The loss obviously will make their hopes for the title much harder to achieve, dropping them eight points off Dortmund’s pace, although the upcoming return of midfielder Jermaine Jones from his eight game suspension should help the club’s defending. Huub Stevens’ club will look to gain all three points away to SC Freiburg on March 3 before they begin their Europa League series against Dutch side FC Twente in Holland on March 8.
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