Stuttgart have a horrible record against Bayern Munich, but they put up a respectable fight on Sunday. Too bad for them, then, that a howler of a mistake undid their best-laid plans and ushered in a 2-0 Munich win.
Few observers gave hosts Stuttgart, coming off a tepid loss to Wolfsburg, much chance against a Bayern side that looks destined to march to yet another title. But the Swabians stuck to a daring, not-too-defensive formation and held the Bavarians in check with relative ease in the first half.
Stuttgart could have played with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich in goal for all that keeper Sven Ulreich was tested.
In fact, the hosts had the best chance in minute 35, when Martin Harnik almost bundled home from close range. But keeper Manuel Neuer was able to get his mitts to the ball in the nick of time.
Stuttgart defended even higher up the pitch after the break, but they were undone by a blunder. On the 50-minute mark Cristian Molinaro launched a side-splitter of a back pass toward Ulreich. Mario Mandzukic picked it off and rounded the keeper to put Bayern ahead.
"It’s shame that my mistake led to the 1-0," a rueful Molinaro said after the match. "After that it was very difficult."
Ten minutes later, Bayern had a reasonable shout for a penalty when Georg Niedermeier brought down Toni Kroos in the box, but the ref wasn’t in the mood.
And ten minutes after that, Bayern exploited the space Stuttgart was forced to yield in their search for an equalizer. Mandzukic slid in a low cross for Thomas Müller, who put the game beyond reach.
And once another ten minutes had clicked past, Harnik said a premature Auf Wiedersehen by picking up a second yellow.
It was anything but a spectacular victory for the Bavarians, but they won’t worry about aesthetic quibbles. The result means they move eleven and twelve points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund respectively in the table after 19 rounds.
“I don’t think it was our best game by any stretch, but sometimes you have to wait for a mistake by your opponent," Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos said after the final whistle. "It’s not the way we want to play, but we’ll take the result anyway."
Stuttgart are in eleventh place, but they can take heart that their performance represented a huge improvement from the same fixture in the first half of the season, when they were hammered 6-1.
Hamburg fortunate to beat Bremen
Sunday’s early game pitted Northern German rivals - and former powerhouses - Hamburg and Werder Bremen against one another.
The match started brightly in Hamburg with both sides putting in some dangerous crosses. Hamburg’s defense was a bit dozy, though, and in minute nine, Werder made them pay. Aleksander Ignjovski put a speculative long ball into the area, and defender Assani Lukimya beat keeper Rene Adler with a reverse header.
It took Hamburg roughly a quarter of an hour to find an answer, and when it came, it was down to a bit of individual inspiration by Heung-Mon Son. The Korean striker left Theodor Gebre-Selassie rooted to the turf and blasted the ball into the upper right hand corner of goal. Young Werder keeper Sebastian Mielitz might have gotten a hand to the shot.
Hamburg wasted no time after the break grabbing the lead. The ball had barely been rolling for 30 seconds when Bremen failed to clear a ball in the center of the goal mouth. Dennis Aogo slotted home, although the replay showed he handled the ball slightly.
Six minutes later, Aogo found striker Artjom Rudnevs on the break, and he lashed the ball into the net. The Latvian looked to be just offside.
Bremen didn’t bemoan the fact that the breaks were going against them. Instead defender Sokratis squeezed off a shot from the edge of the area that went through a defender’s legs and under Adler’s body. The score after 54 minutes was 3-2.
Bremen should have tied it up a short time later, but Kevin de Bruyne couldn’t control a header some 30 centimeters from goal. And the visitors undermined their own cause, when captain Clemens Fritz saw a second yellow card ten minutes from time.
Marco Arnautovic also picked a pair of yellows just before time, foolishly earning himself a suspension despite only playing half the game as a sub. The 3-2 win was the first ever for Hamburg coach Thorsten Fink at home against Bremen.
Hamburg climb to ninth in the table, while Bremen hold steady in twelfth.