Narrow win over Plzen assures progression

Posted by Susie Schaaf

The narrative was much different from the last time these two sides met at the Allianz Arena, with Bayern Munich coming out on top, 5-0. One goal, by substitute Mario Mandzukic, made the difference as Bayern fired themselves into the Champions League knockout stages with two games to spare.

Bayern also equalled a European record -- set by the Barcelona 2002-03 squad -- of nine consecutive matches won in continental competition at the very highest level of football. Barcelona's record included group stage matches, where Bayern's were much more impressive after their loss to Arsenal in the 2012-13 quarter-finals.

Two wins against Juventus, two against record-holders Barcelona, the Wembley final against Dortmund and then kicking off their title-repeating hopes with an easy victory over CSKA Moscow, a surprisingly neat win over Manchester City, a laughable win over Viktoria Plzen in Munich and a ground-out three points, again, over Plzen in the Czech Republic.

No Bayern fan is happy about this victory -- and how can you be, really, if you're a supporter? -- but the means do justify the end: Twelve points from four matches is as well as you can do. Leading their group with two games to spare, there are some interesting propositions in hand for the Munich club. For me, at least.

I am a huge proponent of Bayern Munich abandoning the match in Moscow if there is any racist behavior shown towards Jerome Boateng, David Alaba or Dante. This is helped by Bayern's plus-11 goal differential in the group stages over Manchester City's plus-five. Bayern could afford zero points against CSKA Moscow, and will go through. And what a message that would send?! The "Kings of Europe" -- UEFA's words, not mine -- would make a huge statement to the world if they were intolerant of abuse being heaped upon them.

And if Bayern happened to go through, second-placed in their group, because of it? So be it. You have to beat the best to be the best, right?

But, that is in the future. And we're here in the now. Mario Goetze was a curious inclusion in the Startelf as striker, as were Diego Contento and Daniel van Buyten as centre-backs; with both Jerome Boateng and Dante sitting on Bayern's bench. But, as I'm wholly convinced, perhaps Pep Guardiola just scoops names randomly to start for him? Perhaps it's no surprise at all.

As another unfamiliar Bayern Munich starting XI faltered in the opening stages, Plzen would have the better run of play before Alaba got a diving save out of 'keeper Matus Kozacik with a pretty, curled free-kick. Manuel Neuer came well out of the box on the ensuing counter, denying Plzen with a trademark defensive block, before Franck Ribery's effort could only be pushed out by Kozacik.

Bastian Schweinsteiger only managed to strike the post minutes later as FCB were penetrating, but not able to find their final touch. Once again. Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm got close to opening Bayern's account before Thomas Mueller got down-field in what might have been the most awkward counter-attack ever (watch at 35 minutes -- it's silly), before Plzen had a headed shot going in to the break.

Bayern opened the second period with an imperious Schweinsteiger running at three defenders before Lahm was blocked out at the goal-line by Marian Cisovsky. Chances by Alaba, Thomas Mueller and Ribery would go wanting as Bayern were still looking to open the scoring against a much different Plzen side than the one they faced in Munich.

Guardiola finally made changes for an ineffective Mueller and a tired Schweinsteiger; bringing in Mandzukic for the struggling Mueller and fit-again Javi Martinez to shore up an uncharacteristically leaky defence. And Mandzukic would pay dividends with his inclusion just six minutes later with a header past Kozacik from a sublime Lahm cross.

Mandzukic was also effective defensively as he got down to tackle out, but Pavel Vrba's men came at Bayern with decent chances from Stanislav Tecl and Daniel Kolar. Goetze would miss a golden opportunity, somehow denied after a one-on-one situation with the Plzen keeper before he was replaced in the dying minutes by Mitch Weiser.

Despite three concurrent wins with less than favourable results, Bayern are still breaking, equalling or bettering records. It's a luxury, for sure, but even Guardiola knows there needs to be some changes. A Bavarian derby against Augsburg on Saturday is the final tune-up for the squad going in to the international break before the very tasty match against Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund.

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