Robert Lewandowski scored yet again and Hansi Flick maintained his near flawless record as Bayern coach as the champions made a solid if unspectacular return to Bundesliga football.
Union Berlin 0-2 Bayern Munich, Stadion An der Alten Försterei
(Lewandowski pen 40', Pavard 80')
Normally hidden behind thousands of bouncing fans and an impressive choreography, the dull grey concrete and thin red "Wellenbrecher" (crush barriers) basked in the Sunday evening sun for Bayern Munich's visit to the Stadion an der Alten Försterei. Players' cries and shouts were so audible that when Union defender Christopher Lenz was booked it was accompanied with cries of: "He got the ball, ref!"
It was the lastest reminder that this is what Bundesliga football will look like for the rest of the season. And while the form and meaning of football's return will continue to be discussed, the competition presses on. While the feeling around them remains unusual and the thought of it so foreign after so long away, there is still a title to win, top six spots to secure and relegation to avoid.
Rusty to shake off
A couple of minutes in, and it looked like Bayern would be as surprisingly sharp as Dortmund and Gladbach had been. Thiago displayed outrageous control of the ball from a throw-in, flicking the ball on his heel as he turned 360 degrees to trap it again as it dropped. It was effortless, smooth, easy.
Little else of Bayern's performance was, though. Some chances were snatched at, others just didn't bounce their way. While just as fast, Alphonso Davies was a little less assured on the ball than in the first half of the season. Serge Gnabry looked a little less ruthless in the final third and even Thiago's passing was wayward.
Some of that will of course be down to the unusual situation, but some of it was also down to a physical and disciplined Union Berlin side. The team that beat Dortmund and Gladbach at home this season looked just as difficult to break down even without the extra boost their home fans normally provide.
Solid not spectacular
In the end, as it so often is in sport, it's that little bit extra that makes all the difference. At first, an extra millimeter or two was the reason VAR denied Thomas Müller a goal. But then Leon Goretzka was that extra bit quicker to react than Neven Subotic, leaving Robert Lewandowski to coolly score his 40th goal of the season from the spot.
The longer the game went on, the more familiar the sporting situation felt. Bayern, although not in full control or at their best, looked closer to scoring a second than conceding an equalizer. And with 10 minutes to go, it came - Benjamin Pavard heading in from a corner.
It was ironic that on the weekend when a bigger audience than ever was watching the Bundesliga, Bayern's game was not the pick of the games.
But this kind of solid win is the reason they have won the last seven league titles, and it's why, with a four-point lead over Dortmund, they are favorites to win it again this season. What a title this season looks or feels like remains unclear, but the race to decide it is well and truly back on.
As it happened:
90'+2 FULL-TIME — Peeeeeeeeeeep! It's a routine three points for Bayern, who win in Berlin courtesy of Lewandowksi and Pavard's goals. The champions weren't at their best, but they didn't have to be. Flick now has a remarkable 34 points from a possible 36 since taking over. The Bavarians re-establish their four point cushion at the top.
89' Chance! Neuer keeps his clean sheet intact with a point blank save from Kroos, who is disappointed he didn't grab a consolation for the hosts.
88' Bayern sub: Cuisance on, Müller off.
87' Bayern coasting now, and you get the feeling Union would take a 2-0 right now too. This was always a warm-up for the big Berlin derby against Hertha next weekend.
84' Bayern sub: Perisic on, Gnabry off.
83' Union double sub: Kroos & Ryerson on, Prömel and Bülter off.
81' Pavard deserves that. Has played solidly today at both ends of the field, although Union haven't tested Bayern as much as they could have.
80' GOAL! Union Berlin 0-2 Bayern Munich — Pavard scores! It's job done for Bayern as Pavard leaps high to nod in Kimmich's outswinging corner. Bayern are going four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga once again.
79' Gnabry gets a shot away but Gikiewicz came out and committed himself to the block and the keeper did well.
78' Union looking better since the changes and Genz goes close with an effort from distance.
77' The closer we get to full-time without a second for Bayern, the more union will feel that they can steal something from the game.
76' So close for Bayern. Coman fires a low cross across the face of goal, all it needed was a touch, but Gnabry can't make contact, despite throwing himself at it.
73' Coman's first involvement is to win Bayern a corner off Subotic.
71' Bayern sub: Coman on, Goretzka off.
70' Union double change: Gentner & Andersson on, Andrich & Ujah off.
67' A set piece would appear to be Union's best chance, as has been the case several times already this season.
66' Lenz earns Union a corner. The big men are forward from the back, but Neuer deals with the ball in.
64' A rare foray forward for Union results in nothing. The home side need to be more direct.
62' A couple of reinforcements warming up for Union. We're yet to see any of the five substitutes that each side are permitted to make.
59' Union just lacking the attacking threat to do anything here. Bayern increasingly comfortable, but that second goal remains elusive.
56' Pavard heads the resulting corner wide, but Bayern pushing here.
55' Müller picks out Lewandowski at the far post with a good cross. The Pole tries to head it back across goal, but Trimmel blocks it.
53' Bayern have gone up a gear in this second half. Creating a lot more and putting Union under more pressure.
51' Goretzka goes very close after a nice ball by Pavard. It deflects millimeters wide of the far post.
50' Schlotterbeck with a fine block on Gnabry, who pulled the trigger from the edge of the box.
48' Pavard fires in an early low cross for Müller, whose attempted flick for Lewandowski doesn't come off.
46' SECOND HALF. We're back.
45'+4 HALF-TIME — Peeeeeeeep! That'll do for the first 45. Bayern ahead through Lewandowski's penalty after Müller's disallowed goal. Union have done alright but need to show a bit more in attack to worry the league leaders.
45'+2 Ujah wins a corner as his header deflects off a Bayern body. Hübner gets his head to the ball in but Bayern ultimately get it clear.
45' Four added minutes for some reason.
44' Goretzka forces a Bayern corner but the flag goes up — some welcome relief for Union.
42' Union had just started to create a few chances and then Bayern strike. So typical of the champions.
40' GOAL! Union Berlin 0-1 Bayern Munich — Lewandowski sends his compatriot Gikiewicz the wrong way, rolling it to the keeper's left. That's 26 Bundesliga goals this season for the Pole.
39' BAYERN PENALTY — Subotic catches Goretzka late and that'll be a penalty. Subotic didn't know Goretzka was there, but the referee had little choice.
37' Prömel receives some treatment but is fine to continue, albeit moving a bit gingerly.
35' Prömel is caught late by Davies, who is shown a yellow card.
33' Trimmel gets another chance to pick out a cross, but it's too close to Neuer who claims it relatively comfortably. Union getting the chance to cause Bayern some problems, but not taking advantage of them.
30' Trimmel fires in an early cross for Ujah and Boateng slips but recovers.
28' The referee accidentally blocks a Bayern pass and, under a recent rule amendment, stops play and awards an uncontested drop ball for Bayern, who continue as they would have done anyway 30 seconds earlier. I've never seen a more pointless passage of play in my life.
26' A little bit of pressure from Union here, but Bayern get the resulting corner clear.
24' Lenz wins a free-kick at the expense of Kimmich, and Trimmel's ball is a dangerous one that Hübner flicks towards goal, and it flicks off a Bayern body for a corner.
22' Almost the opener for Bayern this time as Davies fires in a low cross from the left, but Gikiewicz's touch takes it away from Lewandowski and Subotic clears before Müller can get there.
19' Müller won't be receiving a Christmas card from Gnabry this year.
17' Bayern goal disallowed! Oh, Thomas Müller, what are you doing? Müller wins a Bayern corner, which Kimmich swings in. Goretzka nods it down for Gnabry, who heads it towards goal. It was going in but Müller sticks out a foot to get the goal, but he's offside, confirmed by VAR. If Müller had left it, Gnabry would have scored the opening goal.
15' Bayern really dominating the ball, as you might expect. Union defending pretty well at the moment though.
13' Davies collects Thiago's ball and picks out Gnabry, but the former Arsenal man is crowded out and his shot is blocked.
11' Lenz goes into the book for a late one on Pavard.
9' Bayern playing a very high line and this time it just catches out Ujah, who had strayed off as Union had looked to catch Bayern on the break.
7' Union chance! Ujah darts between the Bayern defenders to collect Hübner's fine pass, but Ujah's control lets him down and he fires his shot into the side-netting. A very decent opening, that.
5' Pavard puts in a nice cross that finds Lewandowski and then Goretzka, but the ball doesn't come down for either of them. The flag was up anyway.
3' Bayern will have been grateful for the Bundesliga's hiatus, in some ways. Lewandowski had just sustained an injury that would have kept him out for a chunk of the run-in, but he has been able to recover from that in time for Bayern's title push.
2' Lewandowski with an early sighter from distance. It deflects up and loops just over the bar for a Bayern corner, but Union get it away.
1' KICK OFF — We're underway!
17:50 Players out
Well then, the warm-ups are warming down and we're close to kick off in the German capital. In line with the Bundesliga's protocol, non-playing staff are wearing masks and substitutes will too. Almost time for kick off...
-- 17:40 Rummenigge rubbishes Sane reports
Bayern's CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has dismissed reports that they are closing in on the signing of Germany winger Leroy Sane from Manchester City. When asked by Sky Germany whether there was any truth in kicker's report that Bayern and City are only €10million apart in their valuation, he described that as "laughable". However, he was happy to say that captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will sign a new contract. We may hear more about that one in the coming days.
-- 17:25 Union flying high
Union Berlin have surpassed expectations this season and seem to be on their way to a second straight season in the top flight. Their debut Bundesliga campaign sees them sitting comfortably in 12th, with a game in hand on the sides directly above them. They're not expected to get anything from this game, but they weren't expected to get anything when Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach visited the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
-- 17:15 Hansi Flick and chill
Hansi Flick is looking to continue the extraordinary run of victories that he has enjoyed since taking over as Bayern coach, and was given the keys to the castle on a permanent basis last month. Flick has amassed 31 points from a possible 33, and they're odds on favorites to make that 34 from 36 in Berlin.
-- 17:00 CET Team news!
Union XI: Gikiewicz; Schlotterbeck, Hübner, Subotic; Lenz, Trimmel, Prömel, Andrich; Ingvartsen, Ujah, Bülter
Bayern XI: Neuer; Pavard, Boateng, Alaba, Davies; Thiago, Kimmich; Müller, Goretzka, Gnabry; Lewandowski.
-- Good afternoon! After the Bundesliga returned in the Ruhr derby, there is more to come on Sunday. Bayern Munich's trip to Berlin to play Union should make for a thrilling game, but will certainly be less of an occasion without the usually intense atmosphere of the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. These Geisterspiele, or "ghost games", will make football different experience for all involved.
-- Earlier in the season
The first meeting feels like a really long time ago now if we're honest. Bayern narrowly got the better of Union in Munich. A 2-1 win came thanks a Robert Lewandowski winner (who else?) in a game where Union missed a penalty and Lewandowski had a second ruled out.
-- Union team news
Union have had a curious week. First Yunus Malli tested positive for the coronavirus and then it was announced that head coach Urs Fischer will miss the game against Bayern for private reasons. Union will be without their fans, their newest playmaker and their head coach on Sunday.
-- Bayern team news
Bayern look fully fit other than the long-term injured Coutinho, Tolisso and Süle. Javi Martinez remains a doubt.
-- Bayern head coach Hansi Flick spoke Friday about having to wear a face mask on the sidelines, but by Saturday afternoon the rules for head coaches had changed and they were no longer required to wear one during games.
Flick also said he was happy about the option of five subs, but said he hoped teams wouldn't use it to waste time.
-- Pre-match spotlight: Robert Lewandowski
One of the best strikers in the world and the difference last time out, how sharp is the Pole after this unexpected break? He has 25 Bundesliga goals already this season, and is closing in on 230 Bundesliga career goals. As so often is the case for Bayern, if he plays well so do they.
-- Pre-match spotlight: Rafal Gikiewicz
Beloved but departing at the end of the season, keeper Gikiewicz has been a mainstay at Union Berlin for years. The Polish keeper will go against fellow international teammate Lewandowski on Sunday and will be keen to prove his worth. He has six clean sheets this season and although not one of the top keepers in the league, he has been a key cog in Berlin's impressive campaign.
Union Berlin XI: Gikiewicz - Subotic, Schlotterbeck, Parensen - Lenz, Andrich, Genter, Trimmel - Bülter, Andersson, Ingvartsen
Bayern Munich XI: Neuer - Pavard, Boateng, Hernandez, Davies - Kimmich, Thiago - Gnabry, Müller, Goretzka - Lewandowski