Robert Lewandowski scored at home again as an under-par Bayern Munich squeezed past strugglers 1. FC Köln.
Far from the procession many expected, Bayern struggled against the resilient Billy Goats in the first half, although a well-worked goal also involving Jérôme Boateng and Thomas Müller broke their resistance after an hour.
The leaders are now nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.
Top frustrated by bottom
Bayern, crowned as Herbstmeister with their 1-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, made four changes, with David Alaba, Corentin Tolisso, Sebastian Rudy and Lewandowski coming in. Franck Ribéry, playing his 366th match, became Bayern’s record foreign appearance maker. With Konstantin Rausch and Sehrou Guirassy joining Köln’s never-ending injury list following Sunday’s capitulation to SC Freiberg, Jorge Meré and Tim Handwerker came in, with full-back Lukas Klünter forced to play up front with no available strikers.
With Bayern cruising at the top and Köln so far adrift of anyone at the bottom of the table many were expecting this to be a hammering. The first 15 minutes suggested that this could be the case. Timo Horn was being kept very busy, making key saves from Ribéry, Müller and Lewandowski, with the latter also having a shot blocked by a crowd of defenders. Nikas Süle registered a header chance from an Alaba corner, but that went over.
Despite pre-match expectations Köln were holding their own. Defensively they began to frustrate the hosts, whilst they did have a few chances of their own. Makeshift striker Klünter had a shot saved by Tom Starke, covering again for the injured Manuel Neuer and Sven Ulreich. Milos Jojic then came very close, dinking the ball past Starke but just over the bar.
Frederik Sörensen, Meré and Jannes Horn made key interceptions at the back as Bayern’s attack lost its intensity. Towards the end of the half the came close a couple of more occasions, however Vidal attempt to curl in went wide, whilst a good ball from Süle to Müller was headed into the side netting by the forward, with defender Horn doing enough to hold him off.
Eventual Lewandowski goal doesn’t open the floodgates
Jupp Heynckes responded at the break with two changes, bringing on James Rodríguez and Kingsley Coman in place of Vidal and Tolisso. Yet with a more experience striker up front the Billy Goats could have been ahead in 60 seconds. Klünter did most of the hard work from the halfway line, skipping past Boateng and looking good to score, yet Süle got a touch on the ball and Rafinha finally took it as he closed in on the box, perhaps uncertain of what to do once he got there.
It was increasingly not feeling like Bayern’s night, with Lewandowski missing two big chances to score, including a header inches in front of goal which he would surely score on any other occasion. He wasn’t going to keep missing the target though. A delightful ball in from Boateng was headed on by Müller in the box to the Polish striker. His low volley went past Timo Horn and in, keeping up his record of scoring in all of Bayern’s home Bundesliga games this season.
That freed Bayern up a little. A Boateng cross also gave Coman a goal, but his header ended up into the bar, a shot from Süle was kept out by Horn whilst later on Lewandowski put another shot over. With the minutes ticking by, Rodríguez nearly made the game safe with a cracking strike, only for Horn to deliver his save of the evening to keep it out.
Köln had one final flourish. Klünter provided it, registering a shot but denied excellently by Starke, who despite having little to do proved himself alert when it matters. They had handed two debuts from the bench during the second half, bringing on Chris Führich and Filip Kusic, with the former right at the end going on a clever run before Süle blocked off Christian Clemens.
It was far from emphatic from the champions, but Bayern extend their lead at the top to nine points, with Schalke 04 having overtaken RB Leipzig in second. Köln far from disgraced themselves, which could give them some hope going into their final Bundesliga game before the winter break against VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday.
Wednesday’s other Bundesliga results
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 1-0 VfB Stuttgart (1-0, Uth 81‘)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Werder Bremen (1-0, Alario 11‘)
Schalke 04 3-2 FC Augsburg (1-0, di Santo 44‘; 2-0, Burgstaller 47‘; 2-1, Caiuby 64‘; 2-2, Gregoritsch 79‘ (P); 3-2, Caligiuri 83‘ (P))
Hertha BSC 3-1 Hannover 96 (1-0, Kalou 18’; 2-0, Kalou 45’; 2-1, Bebou 65’; 3-1, Torunarigha 83’)