Bayern beat Manchester City 3-1 the last time these teams met in the Champions League, and came into this game off the back of thrashing Werder Bremen 7-0.
Both teams had already ensured progression to the knockout stages of this competition, but their respective lineups reflected two very different approaches to this match. City manager Manuel Pellegrini spelled out his intentions in an interview before the game: "the game against Arsenal next weekend is more important than the game against Bayern Munich."
As such, he fielded an under-strength side that lacked the likes of Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure. But Pep Guardiola is known for his perfectionism, and this was a strong Bayern side that sought to underline their Champions League credentials with yet another emphatic win.
Such an outcome looked likely when Thomas Müller opened the scoring on five minutes. In a move that played out like a replay of Arjen Robben's recent goals against Braunschweig, Müller chested down a long diagonal ball from Dante and fired the bouncing ball into the bottom corner of Joe Hart's net.
Following this opener, Franck Ribéry caused problems for the defensive pairing of Joleon Lescott and ex-Rote Martin Demichelis. A series of defensive mix-ups resulted in an unlikely opening for the Frenchman to the right of City's goal before his shot rebounded off the post.
The resulting corner landed at the feet of Mario Mandzukic, who found himself in acres of space as he picked out an unmarked Mario Götze at the edge of the six-yard box for Bayern's second. Götze turned well enough, but the reality is that the surrounding City players gave him so much space that he could have had the turning circle of a barge and still scored. With the score at 2-0 within 11 minutes, a response from City looked hopeful at best.
The Manchester side nevertheless began to pose more of a threat after James Milner kept Neuer on his toes with a crisp shot at goal on the quarter-hour mark. Pablo Zabaleta's arrival for Micah Richards after injury seemed to provide his team-mates with some much-needed leadership as the English side solidified as a unit. Jesus Navas provided a speedy outlet on the right wing, and Milner, so often saddled with the "workhorse" tag back in England, was a consistent presence in City's link-up play around the Bavarians' penalty area.
Somewhat against the run of play, these players contributed to City's first goal on 28 minutes. A cross from Navas seemed to fly too far past the face of goal, but Milner persevered and salvaged the ball from a wide position in the box. His header fell into the path of David Silva, who squeezed a shot under Neuer to offer the home side some food for thought.
Guardiola's men responded to this setback in their usual unhurried manner before upping the tempo of their play towards the end of the first half. Ribéry, always eager to get on the ball, remained a persistent presence in Bayern's attacks. Shortly before half-time, he put Götze through on goal, only to see his shot blocked by a fine save from Hart.
And yet Bayern's passing game became increasingly blunted after the break as City gained a foothold in the battle for possession. The English side's reward came in the form of a 59th minute penalty that provided their second goal of the match after Milner fell under a tame challenge from Dante. Aleksandar Kolarov tucked the ensuing spotkick away and City, incredibly, were level.
Contentious (read: very harsh) though that penalty was, it was harder to argue with the validity of the Manchester side's next goal. Apparently shaken by City's comeback, Jerome Boateng whiffed at a low cross from Navas, allowing Milner to collect the ball in space and place an accurate drive inside the far post for his side's third goal of the evening.
This placed Bayern in the unfamiliar position of lying a goal behind their opponents in the closing stages of the match. Guardiola duly brought Xherdan Shaqiri on for Mandzukic, resulting – you guessed it – in a formation without strikers. Shaqiri provided a sense of unpredictability in the final third, but a half-hearted penalty appeal for Ribéry's tumble was all Bayern could muster as they failed to find a breakthrough to level the game before the final whistle.
Although the narrowness of this result ensured that Bayern retained first place in their Champions League group, today's performance showed some worrying signs of frailty against a City side that was noticeably weakened in preparation for their efforts in the Premier League. Bayern's attention will now shift back to the Bundesliga as they host Hamburg on Saturday, but Guardiola will expect more from his players if they are to fulfil his Champions League ambitions later in the season.
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