Leverkusen – They were made to work hard but FC Bayern Munich maintained their 20-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table after grinding out a 2-1 win at third-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Into their stride
The record title-holders had gone in front after a landmark 134th Bundesliga goal from Mario Gomez, but a spirited Bayer side equalised 14 minutes from time through captain Simon Rolfes’ close-range strike, only for Philipp Wollscheid’s late own goal to sink the collective heart of the home faithful.
Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes made a host of changes to the team that lost at home to Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday. Brazilian duo Rafinha and Luiz Gustavo, Xherdan Shaqiri and Mario Gomez all got a starting berth, while the likes of Philipp Lahm, Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Müller were left out of the matchday squad entirely.
Despite those wholesale changes, the Bavarians were quick to find their rhythm at the BayArena. The returning Bastian Schweinsteiger was particularly lively, firing in some menacing set-pieces and striking the first good chance of the game wide of the post. He then came even closer, diverting Arjen Robben’s drilled cross inches off target.
Gomez’s touch of class
Heynckes’ men were firmly in the ascendancy and, after Jerome Boateng’s header was cleared off the line, they took the lead with a goal that underlined why they are head and shoulders above every other team in the league. There seemed little on for Gomez when he controlled Shaqiri’s driven pass on halfway, but lifting the ball over Daniel Carvajal and turning inside Sebastian Boenisch, he finished in style to give his team a timely, and deserved, lead.
For the start of the second half, Leverkusen introduced Sidney Sam – scorer of the winner the last time these two sides met in October – for the subdued Andre Schürrle, and it was a change that had a positive impact for the hosts. He released Stefan Kießling into the box, but the striker’s cross found no teammate, before then setting up Boenisch to have a shot blocked by Dante.
False dawn for Bayer
Having duly overtaken Giovane Elber on the all-time Bundesliga scoring chart, Gomez made way for centre back Daniel van Buyten. The added defensive cover did not prevent die Werkself equalising though, and when the goal came it was from a routine set-piece. Sam’s inswinging delivery was flicked on by Boenisch and Rolfes was all alone to tap home at the far post.
Parity was not to last, however. Schweinsteiger lined up another set-piece and fired it into a crowded penalty box, the ball deflecting off an unfortunate Wollscheid and into the net for Bayern's 100th competitive goal this season. It was a cruel blow for Leverkusen and Sami Hyypiäa, who stay third, but a perfect response from die Münchner to the disappointing midweek showing against Arsenal. A 23rd league title draws ever closer.
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