Frustrating, sluggish and with key personnel missing, Bayern Munich still managed to take another huge leap towards their eighth successive Bundesliga title triumph with a 2-1 win over Gladbach. First-half goals from Joshua Zirkzee and a Benjamin Pavard own goal meant the game was finely poised at 1-1, before Leon Goretzka’s 85th-minute winner.
Thuram’s early injury blow stings visitors but Embolo returns
Gladbach key man Marcus Thuram limped off with an ankle injury just ten minutes into the first-half, after appearing to hurt himself off-the-ball.
As if Alassane Plea’s suspension wasn’t bad enough, the visitors were bracing themselves for an even more challenging task – Breel Embolo making his return from injury, albeit one he wasn’t expecting to make so soon after starting from the substitutes’ bench.
The Switzerland international was immediately involved though, setting up Jonas Hofmann as Bayern were caught ball-watching and almost paid the ultimate price.
He showed ice-cool composure to slot beyond Manuel Neuer, though VAR correctly intervened to rule the goal out as offside and the league leaders could breathe again.
Bayern were missing top goalscorer Robert Lewandowski and assist leader Thomas Muller through suspension, so could be forgiven for a sluggish start in the final third.
However, they almost snatched an early lead after a heart-in-mouth moment defensively from Gladbach. Matthias Ginter’s heavy touch teed up an onrushing Lucas Hernandez, though the defender was denied by an excellent Yann Sommer save from close-range.
At the other end, Embolo should have broken the deadlock. Lars Stindl’s teasing cross evaded David Alaba at the back post, though Neuer was equal to Breel’s first attempt.
The ball bounced back into his path and with the whole goal to aim at, he flashed narrowly wide of the far post.
Sommer presents Zirkzee with a gift before Pavard own goal
Two minutes later, Bayern were surprisingly ahead. Sommer, of all players, was at fault after a limp attempted backpass to Ginter gifted Zirkzee a chance on the edge of the box.
In the right place at the right time, the 19-year-old duly obliged with a composed finish from distance to open the scoring – this being his fourth goal of the campaign.
Ten minutes later, Gladbach finally earned their reward albeit from an unlikely source.
It went down as a Benjamin Pavard own goal, having slid across the box trying to clear Patrick Hermann’s low cross. Instead, he flicked it beyond Neuer into the bottom corner.
After good interplay between Florian Neuhaus, Christoph Kramer, Embolo and Hermann, the visitors were back on level terms.
Michael Cuisance – who spent two years at Gladbach – could have undone their hard work soon afterwards, but headed wide after Ivan Perisic and Hernandez combined dangerously.
Gladbach test Neuer early after the restart
Gladbach were again threatening to start the second-half, forcing Neuer into an excellent intervention to swat Remy Bensebaini’s cross before clearing the danger with his oustretched leg as Hofmann lurked in the six-yard box.
Stindl fired over moments later, but this was a timely reminder the visitors were not going to settle for a point, especially having been the better of the two sides.
Embolo showed good hold-up play before feeding an overlapping Hermann to his right, with the winger forcing a strong but fairly routine stop by Neuer at his near post.
Hansi Flick was unhappy with his side’s lacklustre attacking display, so on the hour mark came a double substitution: Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman replacing a rather safe Cuisance and Hernandez.
Pavard headed narrowly over the crossbar from a Joshua Kimmich corner, just a minute before Gladbach struggled to deal with a free-kick and were almost punished twice.
Serge Gnabry watched his deflected volley tipped around the post by an alert Sommer and as time continued to pass, Gladbach were increasingly content settling for a draw.
Goretzka makes visitors rue missed chances
But, as Eintracht Frankfurt can attest to after their 2-1 DFB-Pokal defeat in midweek, you cannot rest on your laurels against Bayern – regardless of the score.
A seemingly innocuous heavy pass skipped a sleepwalking Oscar Wendt, allowing an unmarked Pavard to drill a low cross into the box and find the run of Leon Goretzka.
He made no mistake, poking home to see the Bavarians regain their slender lead.
Flick made a late change to shore up defensively, as the experienced Javi Martinez replaced Perisic to make another cameo – seeing out a hard-fought three points.
Gladbach were the better side and created ample chances to score more than once, though only had themselves to blame as you could visibly see their intensity levels dropping once Flick’s double substititon and tactical tweaks were made.
Although Erling Braut Haaland marked his return from injury with a stoppage-time strike for Borussia Dortmund against Fortuna Dusseldorf, Bayern can mathematically clinch the title in midweek when they travel to Bremen.
Dortmund host Mainz the following day, knowing that this season’s title race could be over by the time they next take to the field.
Pictures’ source: Bayern’s official Twitter, DPA Pool