Coming into their third match of 2015, FC Bayern had yet to register a win. They finally got off the mark against an uninspired and highly negative Stuttgart side which, at the end of the day, found themselves rooted to the foot of the Bundesliga table. Having just taken a point from their first two matches of the Rückrunde there was just a little more pressure on Bayern, but after a stodgy opening period, the gulf in class between the two teams was exposed.
Coach Pep Guardiola made only two changes to his starting line-up, with Danté coming in for the suspended Jérôme Boateng, and Robert Lewandowski returning in place of the rested Thomas Müller. Starting with the same 3-4-3 formation, Danté joined Medhi Benatia and David Alaba behind the same midfield foursome that had started in midweek against Schalke, while Lewandowski joined Mario Götze and Arjen Robben in a potent-looking front three.
In a nice touch before the kick-off, the visiting fans from Munich provided a very nice choreo dedicated to the late Udo Lattek – the man who had guided Die Roten to six Bundesliga titles in the 1970’s and 80’s and their maiden European triumph in 1974.
Stuttgart have been on the back foot all season, and during the opening half an hour it was fairly easy to see why. Right from the start, they appeared content to attack on the break, allowing the visitors to dictate the play. With Bayern also struggling to find their rhythm — despite having close to eighty percent of the possession — it made for a largely disappointing spectacle for the 60,000 in attendance. Amidst the overly cautious and, at times, scrappy play, Manuel Neuer made one of his now famous advances out of his own box, and on twenty-eight minutes, a rare attack from the home side would see Japanese international Gōtoku Sakai’s curling effort skim the outside of the post.
Having failed to threaten Sven Ulreich in the Stuttgart goal for forty minutes, Bayern made the crucial breakthrough from almost nothing. Having collected0 the ball on the right, Arjen Robben was able to create enough space for himself to exchange passes with Mitchell Weiser before cracking an unerring shot past the keeper on the half-volley from some thirteen yards out. With the white-shirted defenders unwilling to commit to the challenge, Robben had plenty of time to line up his shot before smashing it into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The disjointed opening spell had simply added to the sense of irritation that had developed over the previous ten days, but the goal from the mercurial Dutchman lifted a lot of the weight from the shoulders of every Bayern fan. This was one of those games that, on another day, could very easily have meandered on to a goalless conclusion, but against a Stuttgart side offering very little it was hard to see how Huub Stevens’ side could turn things around.
A more-confident-looking Bayern took to the field in the second half, with Thomas Müller replacing Weiser as Guadiola looked to up the ante. It took just five minutes to effectively settle the matter: having won a free-kick some twenty-five yards out for a foul on Robben, David Alaba put the Dutchman’s earlier fine effort in the shade as he thundered the ball into the top right-hand corner with what could only be described as a contender for goal of the season.
With the natural order now firmly reestablished, the remainder of the match saw the return of that familiar Bavarian swagger, and were it not for some poor finishing, the result could have been a lot more clear-cut. The biggest offender was the profligate Lewandowski, who remains unable to find the sort of form in front of goal that made him so dangerous for Borussia Dortmund. With just under a quarter-hour remaining, the Pole’s badly hit volley from a Xabi Alonso corner provided more threat to the stadium roof than Ulreich or his goal. Nine minutes from time, another chance was spurned as he hit his shot straight at the Stuttgart Torhüter.
The introduction of the energetic Müller at the start of the second half was key to Bayern’s more-fluid movement, but there is no doubt that the second goal had finally released the pressure on Pep Guardiola, not that this didn’t stop the Bayern coach from once again encroaching on the playing area and getting a friendly ticking off from referee Florian Meyer. It had been a strange game, one of few real opportunities, but one ultimately defined by two spectacular goals. Either way, FC Bayern were back on the winning road again.
With second-place Wolfsburg turning out a clinical 3-0 win over Hoffenheim, Die Roten maintain their eight-point advantage at the top of the league table. While still not quite at their best and missing the calming influence of injured skipper Philipp Lahm, Guardiola’s side will be looking to step up another gear next week at home to struggling but slowly improving Hamburger SV.
Man of the Match
David Alaba lit things up with his spectacular free-kick, leaving little argument over who was the man of the match. Though, once again, Arjen Robben also showed just how important he is to this Bayern team.
Bundesliga Week 20
Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgart, 07.02.2015
VfB Stuttgart 0:2 (0:1) FC Bayern
– / Robben 41., Alaba 50.
FC Bayern: Neuer – Benatia, Danté, Alaba – Weiser (46. Müller), Alonso, Schweinsteiger (c), Bernat – Robben (88. Rode), Lewandowski, Götze
Stuttgart: Ulreich – Schwaab (46. Harnik), Baumgartl, Niedermeier, Hloušek (72. Kostić) – Romeu (58. Maxim) – Sakai, Klein, Gentner (c), Leitner – Ibišević
Yellow Cards: Benatia / Romeu
Originally published on the website of the Red Dragons London, the United Kingdom’s premier FC Bayern München fan club
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