Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer insists being the (unofficial) champions of the autumn does not call for complacency, with 19 more German top-flight matches to go.
Mehdi Benatia, Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben (twice) scored in 12 minutes and 55 seconds to help the reigning champions outlast FC Augsburg on Saturday and move ten points clear of second-placed VFB Wolfsburg, who will be up against Paderborn later on Sunday.
Following an injury-hit start, Pep Guardiola’s men look to have gathered enough momentum that could set off a similar second-half flourish like in the previous season, when they clinched the Bundesliga with seven games left. They have now accrued 39 points from 15 rounds of matches and will be top of the standings throughout the festive period.
Speaking after the victory in Augsburg, Neuer expressed delights about his side’s form but highlighted the importance of constant improvement to maintaining their lead.
“It’s always nice to be top of the league, but being there isn’t the important thing at this stage; what’s important is the way we’ve kept improving,” Neuer said. “I think we’ve shown over the first half of the season that we’ve made progress.”
Saturday’s Bavarian derby was evenly poised until the 57th minute, when Morocco international Benatia headed home his first goal for Pep Guardiola’s side since his summer move from Roma. Lewandowski grabbed his seventh goal of the season, sandwiched by Robben’s brace.
“It’s important that we score the first goal – it’s dangerous if we don’t because some opponents can defend very well. We’ve had a few problems in our away games, at Schalke and Gladbach for example, but otherwise we’ve been good,” the 28-year-old said.
Robben has now scored 8 out of Bayern’s 37 league goals, while only Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, Schalke’s Benedikt Howedes and Wolfsburg’s Ivica Olic has managed to slot the ball into Neuer’s net.
The Ballon d’Or candidate however got lucky at the SGL Arena when he raced out of his goal but was adjudged to have been fouled by Tobias Werner when it appeared he should have been penalised for infringement.
Neuer explained: “Everything was fine with (the tackle on Werner close to the halfway line) and I was happy to get involved. If I hadn’t gone out for the ball he’d have been through one-on-one with me and you never know what can happen there.
“It’s a great achievement that we’ve conceded so few goals at this stage of the season but we can’t rest on our laurels.”
Guardiola’s men will host SC Freiburg at the Alianz Arena and face a trip to Mainz before the winter break. Leading goal-scorer Robben wants maximum points from those games.
“The victory was important because it was against an opponent who’s had a really good season,” Robben added. “Now we’ve got another two games, so we need to do well in those and then we can have a bit of a break.”