Robert Lewandowski’s 26th league goal of the season ensured Bayern Munich made a winning return to Bundesliga action, beating Union Berlin 2-0 to re-establish a four-point lead at the top.
In the oddly sterile setting that will be the norm for the foreseeable future following the the coronavirus suspension, Benjamin Pavard’s second-half header with 10 minutes remaining added to Lewandowski’s opener from the penalty spot as Union were beaten at the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei.
The hosts took a very cautious approach, leaving their top goalscorer Sebastian Andersson on the bench until the final 15 minutes, and Bayern were largely untroubled as they made it six straight away league victories to pick up where they left off.
Hansi Flick’s side were efficient as they responded to Borussia Dortmund’s 4-0 hammering of Schalke ahead of the meeting between the two title protagonists at Signal Iduna Park in nine days’ time. Union stay in 12th place in their first Bundesliga season, seven points clear of the relegation play-off spot.
How Bayern got back up and running
The visitors hadn’t been at their fluid best during the opening period, but they were presented with the chance to break the deadlock when Leon Goretzka drew the foul from Neven Subotic five minutes before the interval.
By that point, Flick’s men had already had a goal chalked off for offside as Serge Gnabry’s glanced header towards the far post from Goretzka’s flick-on was nudged in from a fractionally offside position by Thomas Muller – correctly disallowed upon VAR review.
Union, without their manager Urs Fischer due to a family bereavement, made the brighter start as Marius Bulter forced an early save from Manuel Neuer from Grischa Promel’s cross before Anthony Ujah sliced his shot over from Florian Hubner’s lofted pass.
But from then on, the Bundesliga leaders monopolised possession and were awarded the chance to deservedly take the lead as Lewandowski held his nerve from the spot following Subotic’s cumbersome error to make it five consecutive seasons in which he has scored at least 40 goals in all competitions.
Neuer was a virtual spectator during the second period as Alphonso Davies and Serge Gnabry began to combine menacingly down the left. Pavard provided a warning to what would ensue 10 minutes into the restart as he rose to meet Joshua Kimmich’s corner unmarked only to glance wide.
Andersson was eventually introduced with less than a quarter of the game remaining by stand-in coach Markus Hoffman, but with the game more open, it was Bayern who very nearly doubled their lead as Rafal Gikiewicz smothered Gnabry’s shot from Davies’ pass.
Bayern would find their second with 10 minutes remaining, however, as Pavard rose to meet Kimmich’s set-piece to ensure Bayern reopened their four-point buffer with eight games remaining.
The eyes of the footballing world will fall on the German capital next Friday as Hertha Berlin look to build on their impressive 3-0 win at Hoffenheim when they host Union at the Olympiastadion – kick-off is at 7.30pm.
Meanwhile, Bayern take on Eintracht Frankfurt at the Allianz Arena on Saturday at 5.30pm UK time.
Mainz fightback shocks Cologne
Elsewhere, struggling Mainz fought back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw at Cologne as football returned to the RheinEnergieStadion.
The hosts had got off to a flying start when Mark Uth fired them in front from the penalty spot in the sixth minute after a foul by Moussa Niakhate.
Mainz had a chance to equalise through Robin Quaison but Cologne doubled their lead early in the second half through a Florian Kainz header.
But the visitors pulled one back against the run of play just past the hour mark when Bote Baku crossed for Taiwu Awoniyi to convert his first Bundesliga goal.
Quaison missed a chance to equalise before Pierre Kunde Malong sealed a point with a superb solo effort, taking advantage of some dismal Cologne defending to dribble through the middle and fire the equaliser in the 72nd minute.