Bayern Munich fend off challenge to topple reeling Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich held off the challenge of a desperate Borussia Dortmund side Saturday night. Late goals from Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben, the latter from the penalty spot, rendered a heroic performance from goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller and tireless running from the overworked Borussia Dortmund defenders and midfielders null and void.
Bayern used Robben's penalty in the 85th minute to win the German "clasico" battle, 2-1, a result that sent Juergen Klopp's side to an unprecedented seventh defeat in the first half of a Bundesliga season and kept them in the relegation zone, third-from-bottom of the table. Bayern remained top of the heap, four points clear of VfL Wolfsburg.
For 70 minutes it seemed that Weidenfeller and the defenders might be able to steal a result from a Bayern team that attacked with relentless ease but ran into a supreme Dortmund effort to turn its season around.
When Franck Ribery came on for the last 20 minutes that resistance was breached as the defending German champions maintained their unbeaten record in all competitions this season.
Dortmund defender Neven Subotic, on at halftime for Mats Hummels, had a half to forget, his clearance attempt setting up Lewandowkski's goal and his tug on Ribery conceding the penalty that produced the game winner. If there was a hint about Ribery's willingness to go to ground as he was stride-for-stride with Subotic in the box, there was no doubt that the Dortmund man was holding his opponent's arm and tugging.
Bayern deserved the victory, though. They were dominant for much of the 90 minutes, but a wonderful Marco Reus header had them behind at the interval and it took them much of the second half to turn their possession into the vital goals.
In that first half largely dominated by Bayern it took a piece of brilliance from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reus plus some stunning goalkeeping from Weidenfeller to allow the visitors to go into the interval with a 1-0 advantage.
The goal came against the run of play when Shinji Kagawa won possession and spotted Aubameyang ahead of him with room to accelerate down the right wing. One of the fastest men in the league, Aubameyang burst away, but was still able to produce a raking, perfectly-judged cross into the box without losing a step.
Reus cut inside, met the ball squarely and sent the ball past Manuel Neuer from eight yards. It was the first goal Bayern had allowed in the first half this season and only the third time the German international keeper had to collect a ball from the back of his own net.
It was also virtually the only time that Dortmund threatened the Bayern keeper in the whole of the match.
Around that goal the first 45 minutes favored Bayern. As early as the sixth minute, Weidenfeller had to one-hand away a Robben drive and the chances kept coming for Pep Guardiola's team. Thomas Mueller slid one past the right post when at full stretch, then almost contrived to beat the Dortmund keeper when his cross-body shot was flicked forward by Lewandowski.
Weidenfeller, whose form has sometimes been patchy this season, two-handed another Robben drive away from his near post, then beat Mueller point-blank with his left arm as charged off his line and spread out just enough to win the 38th minute battle. A minute later, Weidenfeller got needed help from Sven Bender, who did just enough to put off Robben when it appeared the Dutch international could not miss from close range.
Dortmund had to replace Hummels with Subotic at the interval, a fateful change as it turned out. Nothing changed in the match's pattern, Sebastian Kehl, Lukasz Piszczek, Sokratis, Erik Durm and Co. fighting a rearguard battle against a wave of red-and-blue attacks.
Mehdi Benatia's headers provided an additional threat although they lacked the needed definition to get on target while Lewandowski was coming more into things against his former club. He saw one chance hit Weidenfeller in the ankle and whip past the near post before he finally leveled matters in the 72nd minute.
That came shortly after Guardiola introduced Ribery to make things happen on the left and it was certainly no more than Bayern deserved. It was a Ribery attack which created the danger; Subotic went to ground trying to clear but his attempt only went as far as Lewandowski, in space at the top of the box. The Poland international hammered the ball to the low right corner past his former teammate.
Then it was again Ribery, chasing after a clearance that had come off his body, who forced Subotic to defend as both drove into the area to the right of Weidenfeller. Referee Manuel Graefe decided the Dortmund defender had too much of a hold on Ribery and pointed to the spot while the visitors protested to no avail.
From the spot, Robben put the penalty -- and the match -- immaculately to bed.