Bayern close the gap at the top with a tight but deserved win over RB Leipzig

It has been an excellent December for FC Bayern München, who collected their fourth straight Bundesliga win win a hard-fought but wholly deserved 1:0 win over fourth-placed RB Leipzig at the Allianz Arena. After Borussia Dortmund’s defeat in Düsseldorf, Niko Kovač’s men have closed the gap at the top to six points.

After taking the lead with seven minutes remaining through Franck Ribéry, there was no last-moment meltdown for the determined and focussed Bavarians.

No changes, an cagey start

Having made three changes for their last match against Hannover 96, the Bayern coach stuck again with the same starting eleven. Looking for their fourth league win on the bounce, it looked like things were finally back on track in Munich.

There was also an unexpected bonus. The previous evening, leaders Borussia Dortmund were overturned by Fortuna Düsseldorf. As opposed to being a dozen points adrift before their kickoff, the Bavarians had the opportunity to close the gap to half that. Everything was set up perfectly.

In contrast to the rout in Hannover, Bayern were not off to their usual fast start. There was a cagey feel about the first half, with both teams cancelling each other out in what felt at times like like a chess match.

Ralf Rangnick’s Leipzig side had come to Munich with a plan. They worked hard to close down the usual channels, and crowd the middle of the park. When either one of Serge Gnabry or Kingsley Coman had the ball, they were quickly closed down by two or more black shirts.

More frustration, Gnabry leaves early

After 24 minutes, Bayern had their first sight of goal. A lovely defence-splitting ball from Gnabry found Robert Lewandowski, whose shot was turned onto the upright by Leipzig ‘keeper Péter Gulácsi.

Just as the home side were starting to settle down, there was a setback. A sharp run from Gnabry into the Leipzig box was followed by a sudden stop and a grimace, and we all knew what was coming next. The speedy winger has been one of Bayern’s best players in recent weeks, and his departure after 29 minutes was a major blow.

Was it going to be one of those days again?

Waiting by the touchline was Franck Ribéry. The 35-year-old was probably going to get some pitch time anyway, but this was a lot earlier than many Bayern fans would have wished for.

Nine minutes before half time, the visitors had their first shy at the Bayern goal. From a well-directed corner, Dayot Upamecano fired a header firmly against the crossbar, with Manuel Neuer rooted to the spot. Finally, a little bit of luck.

Bayern up the ante

The chess match picked where it had left off in the second half, but there were signs that Die Roten were ready to switch up a gear. But there was still a gnawing sense of frustration. Thomas Müller found space for Coman on the right, but the Frenchman’s pass was far too strong for the advancing Lewandowski.

The Frenchman beat the air, and his annoyance was clear for all to see. Lewy even had to tell the youngster to calm down. The last thing we wanted was for the frustration to bubble over.

Coman had not had the best of games, and it was at that point where Kovač turned the game to his and Bayern’s advantage. His replacement of the winger with Renato Sanches was not what anybody was expecting. The arrival of the Portuguese youngster gave the reds a much-needed shot in the arm.

As the game moved into the final quarter, Bayern continued to up the ante. Sanches had a sight of goal before firing wide, and Müller went close after collecting a lovely pass from David Alaba. Then, Gulácsi produced a stunning save to deny Joshua Kimmich. The right-back’s close-range header was firm and on target, but somehow the Hungarian custodian managed to claw the ball away.

Dramatic finish

After knocking hard at the door, the Bavarians finally broke the deadlock with seven minutes left. After a determined run from Sanches and another save from Gulácsi, Upamecano was unable to clear. The ball was back with a red shirt. It was that man Ribéry.

While others may have snatched at the opportunity or blazed the ball high into the Südkurve, the veteran kept a cool head. After a deft side-step that saw two defenders end up on the seats of their pants, Ribéry bulged the back of the net. As he charged off in celebration, the Frenchman’s face was a picture. Elation. Passion. Relief. That immediately recognisable contorted Gallic fury.

It summed up the feelings of every Bayern fan. The tension had been broken. Everybody was up off the bench. Niko Kovač was leaping up into the air.

The sense of elation was tempered by feelings of doubt. Bayern had given away so many narrow leads late on, especially at the Allianz. Hearts skipped a beat when Youssef Poulsen headed wide with the goal at his mercy. But the Reds did things right. They shut down the game, and rallied to the cause.

There were some shenanigans right at the end. For the third time in as many seasons, Leipzig ended the match with ten men with Stefan Ilsanker was given a straight red for a nasty challenge on Thiago. The downside was that Sanches followed the Austrian off the pitch after getting involved in the resulting melée.

It was the one blot on what was a solid and determined display from the Bavarians. Next up, Eintracht Frankfurt. Another tough match, but an opportunity to close off the Hinrunde with a bang.

Statistical Summary

FC Bayern München – RB Leipzig 1:0 (1:0)
Ribéry 83. / –

FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Alaba – Goretzka, Thiago – Gnabry (28. Ribéry), Coman (61. Renato Sanches) – Müller (90. Martínez) – Lewandowski

Leipzig: Gulácsi – Klostermann, Konaté, Upamecano, Halstenberg – Demme, Kampl – Laimer (87. Matheus Cunha), Bruma (81. Ilsanker) – Poulsen (88. Augustin), Werner

Referee: Marco Fritz (Korb)
Attendance: 75,000

Yellow Cards: Renato Sanches 79., 90.+1. / Demme 16., Laimer 64.
Red Cards: Renato Sanches 90.+1. / Ilsanker 90.+1.

Shots: 10 / 8
Passes: 594 / 387
Completed Passes: 468 / 262
Pass Success: 79% / 68%
Possession: 60% / 40%
Fouls: 10 / 21
Offsides: 2 / 3
Corners: 5 / 5