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Bayern Munich will greet their return from the winter break with mixed feelings, extending their lead at the top of the Bundesliga despite stumbling to a 1-1 draw at home to Schalke.
There was a sense of deja vu for the German champions, who arrived in 2017 having won seven of their last eight league openers to a new calendar year – the only exception being a previous 1-1 draw at home to Schalke.
While Bayern look to be set for another season of domestic dominance, despite a spirited challenge from newcomers RB Leipzig, Schalke are struggling, looking over their shoulders at the relegation candidates as opposed to forward to the UEFA Champions League spots as they did last term.
The Gelsenkirchen club were on a run of three successive away defeats and, after the season-ending injury of big-money signing Breel Embolo, much of their hopes were relying on Tottenham Hotspur loanee Nabil Bentaleb.
He was going to be key if Shalke were to end Bayern’s 63-match unbeaten home record against teams from the lower half of the table, but found it hard-going on Saturday when his Adidas X 15.1 Leather came toe-to-toe with Arturo Vidal’s Nike Magista Obra II.
And it was Chilean Vidal who came out on top, his dominant midfield display ensuring not only that Bentaleb was kept quiet, but that Magista remained two places clear of the X in the NTERSPORT Football Boot Ranking for the Bundesliga.
He also helped the third-place Magista close the gap overall on the X, which leads the rankings across Europe’s top leagues
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Vidal had an instant, and lasting, impact on Saturday, despite clearly still feeling the effects of a rib injury.
The Chile international was instrumental in Bayern’s early opener, first spreading the ball wide to Arjen Robben before receiving it again on the edge of the area to take a neat touch and thread a delightfully-weighted through ball for Robert Lewandowski to score.
A Manuel Neuer error let Schalke back into the game just a few minutes after Lewy’s ninth-minute opener, in what proved a hammer-blow for the hosts.
Within 90 seconds, however, they were right back in control and very nearly regained the lead when Vidal climbed highest to send a header over the bar from a whipped corner.
‘King Artur’ had a match-best 101 touches, while only Matts Hummels (8) regained possession more than the seven occasions on which Vidal got Bayern back in control.
Bentaleb, by contrast, found himself on the periphery for large portions of the game, his one real contribution arrived as he rolled a wonderful pass into Sead Kolasinac down the left, but his pull-back saw Guido Burgstaller’s shot cannon back off Neuer’s crossbar.
The former Spurs man failed to create a single direct chance for his team-mates and offered little defensively, while Vidal played a game-best 82 passes and a team-best 6 tackles. Vidal also contested more than twice as many duels (34) as Bentaleb (15).
That Bayern boss elected to keep Vidal on the field for the full match, despite his clear discomfort, spoke volumes of a performance from a player who will certainly be flying the flag for the Magista as it attempts to claw back the narrow overall lead of the X in the second half of the season.
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