Bayern Munich brushed aside mounting speculation over the future of coach Pep Guardiola to chalk up a 15th win of the Bundesliga season, 1-0 at Hannover.
Reports in Germany are increasingly leaning towards the likelihood that Guardiola will end a three-year spell in Bavaria when his current deal expires at the end of this season.
If so, he will leave behind an incredibly well-oiled machine – his Bayern side going through the majority of the match at the HDI Arena virtually untroubled after Manuel Neuer tipped Leon Andreasen’s early header onto his crossbar.
That Bayern only had Thomas Muller’s 40th-minute penalty to show for their efforts owed much to the heroics of Hannover goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler and a second-half performance that settled for control rather than penetration.
Victory saw Bayern move eight points ahead of Borussia Dortmund – who lost 2-1 at Cologne – at the summit heading into the Bundesliga’s mid-season break, having dropped only five points all season.
Two enforced changes as Holger Badstuber and Arturo Vidal limped out of the action took some of the shine off the result for the champions, who only named four substitutes due to existing injury concerns.
Hannover made a confident start to the match and, after Zieler sprung from his line to thwart Thiago Alcantara on the end of Vidal’s lofted pass, the hosts were almost in front after eight minutes.
Andreasen glanced Miiko Albornoz’s cross goalwards and, on his 300th Bundesliga appearance, Bayern goalkeeper Neuer was at full stretch to touch the ball against the bar
Perhaps inevitably, Zieler would have considerably more work to get through than his opposite number thereafter and he impressed with an acrobatic save at his near post from Kingsley Coman.
Robert Lewandowski took down Thiago’s diagonal pass but fired too close to Zieler, who produced a more unconventional stop to catch the eye with half an hour played.
Lewandowski’s curling shot beat the Germany international’s despairing dive and cannoned back off the post to Muller.
The Bayern man prodded a side-footed effort towards the gaping goal but Zieler lunged back towards his line to save with his boot.
Coman then failed to connect with what appeared to be a simple finish at the back post before Hannover’s resistance was broken five minutes from half-time.
Captain Christian Schulz carelessly blocked Coman’s right-wing cross with a flailing arm and Muller outsmarted Zieler on this occasion, sending him the wrong way.
Lewandowski saw Zieler claw a a 20-yard effort to safety in the 56th minute and the Poland star then knocked down a set piece for Javi Martinez to skew wastefully wide.
Hannover winger Edgar Prib sent a dipping long-range effort over on an increasingly rare sighting of the Bayern goal, the visitors having long established their customary dominance of possession amid persistent cajoling from Guardiola.
Bayern could find themselves planning for life beyond their current coach when they return to domestic action on January 22, while Hannover will have the more immediate concern of a relegation scrap – Michael Frontzeck’s team sitting precariously in 16th place with 14 points to their name.