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Bayern have to fight to sink title rivals and regain top spot

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By Martin Shillito

Sunday 04 April 2010

Kuranyi 31

Ribéry 25, Müller 26

It is not often Bayern Munich have to defend for their lives and play on the counter attack. The myriad of attacking talent at their disposal normally means it is they who dominate games and force their opposition to raise the shields to their chests and ward off the Bayern attacking waves.

After Hamit Altintop’s foolish sending off, it was Louis van Gaal’s men who had to show their battling qualities in the second period of this thoroughly absorbing Bundesliga clash of the titans to gain a priceless three points. Schalke, sitting relatively comfortably at the top of the league with a two point cushion over Bayern before the game will have been confident of extending their extremely impressive record of not having suffered a home defeat since September. A prolific Kevin Kuranyi is scoring goals for fun, Bayern had lost their previous two Bundesliga games and their Champions League exploits in mid-week would surely have taken something out of them. Instead it was a 60 second blitz midway through the first half and a backs-against-the-wall approach in the second that spoilt Schalke’s almost flawless recent success in the Veltins-Arena.

After a frighteningly similar first 20 minutes to the DFB Pokal semi-final between the two sides almost two weeks ago (which lacked any sort of attacking flair and fluidity) the game suddenly sprung into life after wing wizard Franck Ribéry fired home from 16 yards. Almost before Schalke Coach Felix Magath could begin to fulminate, the ball was in the net once more, with Altintop capitalising on a rare poor touch by Schalke left-back Rafinha. A quick response from the talismanic Kuranyi further enhanced the game’s appeal, as neither team seemed to have any inhibitions. The game was open and played at a brisk tempo, with both sets of players suddenly coming to the realisation of how monstrously important the game was in deciding which club’s name will be etched on to the Bundesliga Schale next month.

Altintop’s silly dismissal however, meant Van Gaal decided it was best to sit on the lead and stifle and frustrate Schalke in the second half. A tactic that reaped the rewards on this occasion. Whether the blood-curdling ten-man battle of the second period will have left the Bayern players with enough in the tank to match Manchester United on Wednesday is another matter. The confidence they will take from this display will be a vital component in their Old Trafford clash, and one player who will have gained enormously in confidence is Martin Demichelis. He may have been dreadfully clumsy in the opening minutes last Tuesday against the Red Devils, but he put in a brilliantly gladiatorial shift during the second half here.

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