Bayern Munich dig deep to stay unbeaten after win at Schalke
Bayern Munich opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga after a hard-fought 3-1 win at Schalke.
An early effort from David Alaba put Bayern into an early lead, but Max Meyer hammered in an impressive finish to level the scores. But Javi Martinez popped up to score his first goal in two years to head Bayern towards the three points before Thomas Müller scored in stoppage time. The league-leaders have established solid -- and perhaps unassailable -- lead following Borussia Dortmund's defeat at Hamburg on Friday.
Josep Guardiola's 97th different starting eleven since January 2014 included four new faces from the 4-0 win over Stuttgart before the international break. Philipp Lahm, Martinez, Medhi Benatia and Xabi Alonso returned the fold while the injured Thiago Alcantara and Frenchman Kingsley Coman dropped out.
Andre Breitenreiter handed a start to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg -- on loan from Bayern until the end of the season -- whilst picking Bendikt Höwedes and Sascha Riether as part of a five-man backline, although Roman Neustadter acted as an auxiliary defensive-midfielder when required.
Both teams paid their respects to the victims of the Paris attacks as security was beefed up around the stadium in Gelsenkirchen. After an energetic start, Schalke's preparations were thrown out of the window on eight minutes as Alaba's long-ranger cannoned against Leon Goretzka and beat Ralf Fährmann.
Lewandowski shot wide four minutes later as the Bavarians turned up the heat on the Royal Blues who were pinned back into their own defensive third. Defensively compact, but quick on the break, Schalke had enough quality to be dangerous.
On 16 minutes, they restored parity when Sane delightfully spun away from Alaba and Alonso, completing a 40-yard sprint with a pass to Meyer on the left. The winger outfoxed Philipp Lahm before rifling the ball low past Manuel Neuer.
Schalke retreated back into their deep, tight structure, which limited space around the edge of the box. Douglas Costa has been Bayern's match-winner several times this season, but the Brazilian was frustratingly wasteful in the first period. Almost all his crosses went astray, while his shot on 25 minutes was more hopeful than anything else.
Whenever Fährmann was involved, though, it was easy tasks – gathering from a tame Lewandowski shot on 29 minutes and from corner kicks. A ripple of applause permeated the walls of the Veltins Arena as the stadium announcer told one Schalke fan about the birth of his child. He hadn't been answering his phone, so it's clear where the priorities of the home fans lay.
Without penetrating the Schalke rearguard, Bayern Munich dominated proceedings after the interval. But Guardiola's side still seemed to have issues with countering the counter-attack from Schalke and Sane threatened on more than one occasion.
After Müller's tame shot on 56 minutes, Arturo Vidal headed over Xabi Alonso's cross. The pressure was forcing the Schalke defence to drop even closer to Fährmann's goal with Robben coming close with his first slaloming dribble of the game -- left-back Dennis Aogo had kept him in check well up until that point.
Next time around, Robben found a yard of space and picked out Martinez between the two Schalke centerbacks and the Spaniard headed past the keeper. The fact Martinez had switched positions with Alonso and then decided to stay in attack for several minutes shows the extent of this side's tactical flexibility.
Robben should have made it 3-1 with 11 minutes left, but his header from point-blank range went off target. The Dutchman was unmarked inside the box and had he left it, Lewandowski would have likely netted. Guardiola will be concerned by the sight of Alaba limping off with eight minutes to go given his outstanding all-round game at the minute.
Schalke handed a debut to 17-year-old Fabian Reese in the final minutes, another young talent from the Knappenschmiede football school which is regarded as one of the best in Germany. Reese arrived at Schalke's boarding school from Holstein Kiel in 2013 and looks to be a talent for the future.
Lewandowski hit the post in stoppage time, but Müller popped up and beat Fährmann with an angled left-foot shot to make it 3-1. Guardiola, still to decide his future at the club, maintained his 100% record in matches coming off the back of an international shutdown when some expected Bayern to lose focus on a trip to Gelsenkirchen that resulted in a draw last season.
Bayern are unbeaten in 55 matches in the first half of the league season (known as the hinrunde). Schalke meanwhile have lost their spot in the top-six and are without a win in seven matches.