Bayern Munich have returned from the winter break with a win, beating Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 at the BayArena on Friday open up a 14-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
The game started at a frantic tempo, with both sides counter-attacking each other with real speed and intent in the opening stages.
Once both teams settled into the game and began to focus on controlling possession, Bayern started to assert their dominance and take charge of proceedings.
Javi Martinez opened the scoring for the visitors just after the half-hour mark, when Arturo Vidal’s blocked header fell to him, allowing the Spaniard to fire home with his left foot from close-range.
Leverkusen continued to push for the equaliser, and came close when Leon Bailey hit the crossbar 10 minutes after half time.
Just four minutes later, however, Franck Ribery doubled Bayern’s lead, as he received the ball in acres of space on the left-wing, before cutting inside and finishing into the bottom-left corner.
Kevin Volland pulled one back for the hosts when his left-footed strike from the edge of the penalty area took two deflections off Martinez and Niklas Sule before finding its way into the net.
Bayern held off a late charge from Leverkusen, with a beautiful free kick from James Rodriguez in the 91st minute all but ensuring a winning return to Bundesliga action for Die Roten.
Bayern win without full complement
Jupp Heynckes came into this game without some of his star players in the side, with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thiago, Joshua Kimmich and Mats Hummels all missing.
Despite the absence of these key players, Bayern put in a fantastic performance and fully deserved their victory, showing the depth of talent in their squad.
The midfield system worked perfectly for the Bavarians, with Vidal and Martinez holding down the base, allowing Rodriguez to flourish, as the Colombian pulled the strings for the visitors, linking midfield to attack.
Arjen Robben and Ribery were constantly able to find space out wide, with full-backs Rafinha and David Alaba supporting them on the overlap.
Bayern were impressive in all areas of the pitch, which bodes well for the future for Heynckes, as he will know that his side is capable of winning without some of its best players.
Leverkusen shaky at the back
The hosts were by no means poor in this game, but a string of loose moments in defence would eventually hurt them as they were unable to keep Bayern at bay.
The first goal came about through poor marking at the corner, with Julian Brandt losing Vidal at the back post, and the defence unable to clear the ball before Martinez was on hand to score.
Time and time again, the back three for the hosts were incapable of clearing their lines, as far too often they presented the ball right back to Bayern’s midfielders and attackers, keeping themselves on the back foot.
There were often too many gaps in their back line, allowing Bayern to penetrate and punish them on the counter, evidenced by the second, where Ribery was afforded far too much time and space to conjure up the goal.
Heiko Herrlich will feel disappointed with his team’s defensive display, as it became their eventual downfall in what was an otherwise solid performance.
Who can catch Die Roten?
The winter break clearly did not serve to slow down Bayern’s form, as they continued right where they left off.
The victory makes it five in succession for Heynckes’ charges, who have now established an almost unassailable 14-point cushion at the top of the league.
After a slow start which saw manager Carlo Ancelotti relieved of his duties, Bayern have turned things around and returned to their familiar position atop the Bundesliga.
With a favourable Champions League round of 16 tie against Besiktas coming up and excellent league form, things are looking very positive at the Allianz Arena.
Die Roten will be keen to continue their strong form, and fans can expect more silverware to be added to the ever-growing trophy cabinet in Munich.