It was clear to see the joy of the team from Munich when they finally kept a clean sheet after five games with their 1-0 win away to Eintracht Frankfurt. Joshua Kimmich, who brilliantly set up Leroy Sané's goal, expressed his satisfaction: "The mentality was really good today. We pushed ourselves in the last 15 minutes to avoid conceding." And coach Julian Nagelsmann also praised his team's impressive defensive work (65.7% of challenges won): "We were in the game throughout the 90 minutes." That wasn't the case in the previous five matches. That is partly due to Nagelsmann having to improvise a lot in recent weeks due to injuries and coronavirus cases. The record champions looked susceptible in defence and not just in the defeat at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach (1-2) but above all at VfL Bochum (2-4). FC Bayern also looked less than solid at times at the back in the 3-2 win against RB Leipzig and the recent convincing 4-1 victory over SpVgg Greuther Fürth. FCB have yet to reach the heights they showed in the first half of the season. Looking at the table, Germany international Kimmich said: "We've given away a bit of the cushion in recent weeks." But the lead over second-placed Borussia Dortmund remains a comfortable eight points. As we now head into the business end of the season, the next two home games against Bayer 04 in the Bundesliga and RB Salzburg in the Champions League three days later will provide real tests.
The captains are back on board: Manuel Neuer was able to do goalkeeping drills this week early than expected following his knee operation at the beginning of February but he will probably only make his comeback against RB Salzburg. Thomas Müller returned to full training after his second coronavirus infection and will be in the squad for the Leverkusen game. But the personal situation is still tricky for Bayern. Julian Nagelsmann will have to manage without defender Lucas Hernandez against Bayer 04 as he is serving a one-match ban. Also sidelined is Leon Goretzka, who has returned to individual training following complicated knee problems, but it remains to be seen when the Germany international will return. Corentin Tolisso (back in light training after a muscle injury) and left back Alphonso Davies (slight myocarditis) are not available. In contrast, Niklas Süle returned to full training on Thursday after having to miss out the session on Tuesday due to a back problem.
Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sané, Kingsley Coman, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Jamal Musiala – these names personify the outstanding attacking quality of Bayern. Lewandowski is again scoring with incredible consistency this season (28 goals in 24 games), Müller is the new king of assists (16 assists, seven goals) and the other five mentioned above have netted 28 of the Munich team’s 75 goals this term. Bayern have never before scored as many after 24 games. The Werkself were able to experience FCB in full swing in the 5-1 defeat at the BayArena earlier this season.
As Nagelsmann often sends out his best five attacking players at the same time, he misses something when things don't go right in terms of substitution options. "Recently we haven't had the strength on the bench to back up that offensive power," said the Bayern coach after the win at Frankfurt. The 34-year-old coach deliberately left Leroy Sané out of the starting line-up at Eintracht for that reason. The Germany international came off the bench to score the winner four minutes after coming on – the plan worked. The FC Bayern defence has not been as commanding as in the first half of the season but, along with SC Freiburg, they have still conceded the fewest goals in the league (26) – albeit with six headed goals that does not necessarily say a lot for the aerial superiority in their own penalty area. Dayot Upamecano, who moved from RB Leipzig to Munich along with coach Julian Nagelsmann last summer, has had a few ups and downs in central defence. Marcel Sabitzer, the third signing from Leipzig, is still finding it difficult at Säbener Straße and has rarely impressed. Nagelsmann has brought the player on twice from the start recently and remains optimistic. "He has outstanding qualities. It's our job as the coaching staff to help him produce his best. He's not there yet but he's on the way."
FC Bayern are currently on course for their tenth league title in succession. And who can stop them? No other league leader has given away an eight-point lead at this point in the season. In spite of recent personnel issues, the depth in the squad is such that the Schale will most probably end up at Säbener Straße again this year. The more exciting question is what Bayern, who were knocked out of the DFB Cup in the second round (with a 5-0 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach), will do in the Champions League. Kimmich and Co. were impressive in the group stage with six wins from six games and, with the last-minute 1-1 draw in the Round of 16 first leg at RB Salzburg, FCB have a good chance of reaching the quarter-finals at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday 8 March. That would put them back in the exclusive line-up of usual suspects – and the top side in Germany are capable of anything in the clashes with the European football elite.
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