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Bayern Munich grind out dull affair in Russia against supporter-less CSKA Moscow

Bayern climbed to the top of Champions League Group E after Thomas Müller's penalty earned a 1–0 victory against CSKA Moscow in an eerily quiet Arena Khimki.

Alexander Hassenstein

In extraordinary conditions, this match served as a reminder that, as well as dishing out the kind of convincing victory we saw against Paderborn, Bayern Munich can be equally adept at grinding out less glamorous results.

Their latest opponents in this Champions League "Group of Death" were CSKA Moscow, a side that made the competition's quarter-finals in 2010 and secured back-to-back titles in the Russian league last season. Their stadium provided a predictably surreal experience, with the game being played behind closed doors after racist chants from among their fans last season. The punishment had a fascinating side-effect: above the dim background noise of camera shutters, viewers could hear every call and shout coming from the players.

And if the restrained atmosphere made the match sound like a training session, the tense opening exchanges supported the illusion. CSKA moved away from the open shape that saw them concede five goals against Roma, sitting back with a bank of five defenders and snuffing out Bayern's attacks with a mixture of stubborn defensive positioning and last-ditch blocks. The restraint of Moscow's tactics gave Xabi Alonso plenty of time to spray the ball out wide, registering 75 touches and 66 passes in the first half alone and ensuring his side needed just half an hour to notch over 200 more touches of the ball than their opponents.

But Moscow defied these stats to mount some dangerous attacks of their own. Roman Eremenko was at the centre of his side's attacking threat, using what little possession they had to supply lone forward Ahmed Musa with a series of passes that allowed him to burst past Bayern's centre-back pairing of Dante and Mehdi Benatia. Further chances for Zoran Tošić and Georgi Milanov kept Manuel Neuer on his toes before Eremenko struck the crossbar with a shot of his own.

The other end of the pitch was characterised by hard graft from Bayern's forwards. Constantly interchanging in an effort to force their way through Moscow's packed back line, Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, and Thomas Müller were full of energy and clever, one-touch passing, and Arjen Robben could have finished the match with a goal were it not for some slight hesitance in front of goal and an impressive performance from Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

The Bavarians' eventual breakthrough, as expected, was largely down to sheer persistence. A period of sustained pressure saw Mário Fernandes take out Götze with a foul at the edge of the box after 20 minutes. Replays of the incident made it unclear as to whether Fernandes' challenge was within the penalty area, but Thomas Müller seemed unphased as he smashed the ball into the centre of the net for the first and only goal of the match.

Seydou Doumbia's introduction for Bebras Natcho promised to add some extra pace among Moscow's forward ranks, but, barring a yellow card for a Benatia tackle on Musa, Bayern comfortably saw out the game's closing stages with the help of Guardiola's tactical substitutions. Rafinha's arrival for Robben 10 minutes before the final whistle allowed Lahm to move further forward and loft a perfectly weighted ball to Xherdan Shaqiri in the box, while Akinfeev was called into action as Pizarro – on for Lewandowski at the end of regulation time – intercepted a defensive header in the box.

CSKA fans may question whether their side could have pressed harder for an equaliser in the game's final minutes, but this match was testament to Bayern's professionalism, keeping their opponent – for the most part – at arm's length despite the small margin of victory. Two 1–0 wins later, and Die Roten currently sit at the top of their Champions League group on six points. And with that strange interlude out of the way, normal service will be resumed when they face sixth-placed Hannover at the Allianz Arena on Saturday.

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