By John Bagratuni, dpa
Berlin (dpa) – Champions Bayern Munich laboured to a 1-0 win at bottom club Darmstadt on Sunday which allows them to host high-flying Leipzig in a Bundesliga table-topper as leaders next week.
Douglas Costa smashed a spectacular winner from long range in the 71st for an unconvincing and mostly harmless Munich side.
Bayern and promoted Leipzig, who beat Hertha Berlin 2-0 on Saturday, have 36 points each. Munich rank top owing to a better goal difference ahead of their showdown Wednesday in Munich in the final round before the winter break.
Darmstadt meanwhile remain last with eight points after a seventh straight defeat, two points behind SV Hamburg and four behind Ingolstadt who surprised 10-man Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in the day’s other game.
“We are relieved. We got three very important points. Without them it would have been very tough Wednesday,” Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer told Sky TV, and coach Carlo Ancelotti agreed after “a difficult game” that “it is very important we are back on top.”
Neuer said he expects an evenly balanced affair but that Bayern have to present themselves in a different way than Sunday.
“We played at the bottom side and what we showed wasn’t really Bayern, especially in the first half,” he said.
Darmstadt caretaker coach Ramon Berndroth said: “We wanted to play in a way that the fans would be proud of us. We achieved that but as coach you also want to earn points.”
Bayern counterpart Carlo Ancelotti had to make a late change to his line-up as captain Philipp Lahm complained about thigh muscle problems in the warm-up and was replaced by Rafinha.
Darmstadt started brightly with Jan Rosenthal hitting the side-netting with a fifth-minute header against a sluggish Bayern side.
Rosenthal later tried his luck with a volley while Bayern didn’t threaten until Mats Hummels headed high in the 40th and Robert Lewandowski’s free-kick four minutes later also went over.
Jerome Gondorf had another chance for the hosts shortly after the restart and Mario Vrancic’s free-kick sailed inches wide while on the other end keeper Michael Esser was called into action for the first time on a tight-angle attempt from Thomas Mueller.
Bayern finally broke the deadlock in the 71st thanks to Costa’s brilliance as the wingter fired a swerving shot from some 25 metres which which went in off the bar with no chance for Esser.
Neuer needed to save Gondorf’s free-kick and a header from Peter Niemeyer on the rebound before Bayern were assured of a sixth straight win in their seven unbeaten games with Darmstadt.
“We wanted to go into Wednesday as leaders,” Hummels said. “We have a lot of respect for Leipzig. It will be very tough and we will need a top performance. It will be a very intense game.”
Visiting Ingolstadt went 1-0 up at mid-table Leverkusen from Alfredo Morales’ header and things looked even better for them when Leverkusen’s Charles Araguiz was sent off for a second bookable offence early in the second half.
Ingolstadt however had to swallow a 63rd-minute equalizer from Admir Mehmedi but unmarked Israel midfielder Almog Cohen clinched victory for them with a low shot in the 76th.