There were some hairy moments, but FC Bayern München had more than enough in the locker to see off a feisty Schalke 04 at the Allianz Arena. Just two minutes after the visitors hit the post, in-form Serge Gnabry sealed secured all three points.
With league leaders Borussia Dortmund blowing a three-goal lead against Hoffenheim, the Bavarians have cut the deficit to just five points. The chase is definitely on.
Bayern take early lead
Bayern coach Niko Kovač would make just one change from the team that had beaten Hertha BSC in the cup in midweek. Jérôme Boateng joined Mats Hummels in the middle of the defence, with Niklas Süle taking his turn on the bench.
Manuel Neuer’s hand injury meant that he was unable to start against his former team, and once again Sven Ulreich was given the nod. In Neuer’s absence, Robert Lewandowski again took the captain’s armband.
Unbeaten in their previous sixteen matches against Die Königsblauen, Bayern were hot favourites on their own turf. But given the needlessly dropped points at home this season, nothing could be taken for granted. The Bavarians started strongly, immediately piling the pressure on the men in blue.
David Alaba was the standout player in a frenetic opening ten minutes, giving Schalke ‘keeper Ralf Fährmann some early action before shooting narrowly wide. The visitors struggled to keep up with Bayern’s pace, and it was no surprise when the Bavarians opened the scoring in the eleventh minute.
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Catching the opposition in possession, the men in red stormed forward. A lovely pass from James Rodríguez was perfectly set up for Lewandowski, but Schalke defender Jeffrey Bruma arrived with even better timing to sweep the ball past Fährmann and into his own net.
Two goals in a minute
Having taken the lead, Kovač’s men upped the ante, determined to kill off their opponents quickly. Alaba continued to get in behind the Schalke defence, and Serge Gnabry also warmed Fährmann’s gloves. A second goal seemed inevitable.
The second goal of the match did come after 26 minutes, but at the other end of the pitch. Having done next to nothing, a lazy moment on the ball from James allowed Domenico Tedesco’s men to storm quickly up the pitch. Teenager Ahmed Kutucu left a trundling Boateng in his wake, and finished the move delightfully.
Having created the opportunity, the youngster found the top left hand corner of the Bayern goal, his well-struck shot curling past a helpless Ulreich.
That was as good as it got for the men in blue. Just a minute later, Bayern pulled off the same trick. The energetic Gnabry seized possession, and found James who in turn picked out Lewandowski. The Polish striker’s finish was typically calm and clinical – the perfect way to score his 100th goal at the Allianz Arena.
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There were chances to extend the lead, with both James and Kingsley Coman getting decent sights of goal. Schalke were able to get some time in the Bayern half, but the scoreline at the break was closer than it should have been.
Schalke go close, Gnabry seals the deal
Bayern started the second half like they had the first, and Leon Goretzka hit the outside netting within a minute of the restart. With the contest still in the balance, the visitors twice came close to levelling the scores. It was another one of those pivotal moments.
After 53 minutes, the Bayern defence was opened up by American youngster Weston McKennie, and Yevhen Konoplyanka was denied by Ulreich after spending far too much time lining up his shot. Two minutes later, Bruma almost made amends for his earlier own goal, beating Ulreich all ends up only to see the ball crash off the base of the upright.
Just as it looked like Schalke might turn things around, the home side struck a crucial third goal. Coman turned Daniel Caligiuri inside out, and Lewandowski’s spectacular overhead effort was finished by the excellent Gnabry. Directing a firm header across Fährmann, the winger continued his fine run of goal-scoring form. Cue that all too familiar pot-stirring celebration.
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Schalke had nothing left, and Bayern were able to see the game out with little fuss. Lewandowski had two excellent opportunities to add a fourth, but was guilty of some surprisingly poor finishing. If goal difference becomes a factor at the end of the season, we may look back at some of these missed chances.
Earlier in the day, leaders Borussia Dortmund looked to have been cruising to an easy three points against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, and with fifteen minutes remaining they were 3:0 up. Nobody could have predicted the meltdown that followed, as Hoffe netted three times in twelve minutes to snatch a point. The result meant that Bayern had closed the gap at the top to just five points.
FC Bayern München – FC Schalke 04 3:1 (2:1)
Bruma og 11., Lewandowski 27., Gnabry 57. / Kutucu 25.
FC Bayern: Ulreich – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba – Thiago – Goretzka, James (78. Martínez) – Gnabry (89. Davies), Coman (68. Ribéry) – Lewandowski (c)
Schalke: Fährmann (c) – D. Caligiuri, S. Sané, Bruma, Oczipka – McKennie, Rudy (33. Mascarell) – Serdar (54. Harit), Bentaleb, Konoplyanka – Kutucu (73. Uth)
Referee: Daniel Siebert (Berlin)
Yellow Cards: Lewandowski 34. / Caligiuri 45.
Red Cards: – / –
Shots: 16 / 7
Passes: 688 / 296
Completed Passes: 617 / 229
Pass Success: 90% / 77%
Possession: 52% / 48%
Fouls: 11 / 11
Offsides: 0 / 2
Corners: 7 / 2