Turning into the final straight

FC Bayern München continue their successful run under Jupp Heynckes, and things continue to fall nicely into place. The Bundesliga is more or less wrapped up, and it is looking bright as we turn into the final straight. Is it too early to start to dream?

Back in September last year, nobody could have believed where FC Bayern would be now. Having answered the call from old friend Uli Hoeneß, veteran coach Jupp Heynckes has taken the club to 23 wins from 25 matches. The Bavarians sit an impressive 20 points in front of second-placed Schalke 04.

A win in Leipzig this coming weekend, coupled with defeats for the chasing pack, could see Heynckes’ men wrap up the title with seven matches to spare.

A one-time Klassiker

If you speak to any FC Bayern fan today and ask them about Hamburger SV, their response will be something along the lines of “cannon fodder”. Including the most recent 6:0 pummelling, Die Roten have punctured the Hamburg net no fewer than 50 times in eight meetings. 50 goals, eight matches. An average of 6.25 goals per game. One could be looking at tennis scores.

It was not always like this. When I became a Bayern fan back in 1981, Die Rothosen, then coached by the legendary Ernst Happel. They were FC Bayern’s biggest and fiercest rivals. There was a genuine two-way battle for the Bundesliga, with both teams punching like heavyweights. A year after Bayern had failed to become the first German team to win the European Cup since their own three-peat in 1976, it was Hamburg who beat Juventus 1:0 in Athens courtesy of a stunning effort from Felix Magath.

You can read more historical stuff in my book, of course. Where I ramble on for over 420 pages.

How things have changed. After a number of close escapes, it looks like this latest yank on the Hamburg chain is finally going to send the old dinosaur down. They are already on their third coach in the space of three months after the dismissal of Markus Gisdol and then Bernd Hollerbach, and one has to wonder whether new caretaker Christian Titz will still be in charge when the inevitable happens. All bets are still on that he won’t. It is time to reset that clock.

Record breakers

The record-setting Bavarians had blown their chance to set a new mark of 15 successive home wins when they were held to a goalless draw by a dour and dogged Hertha BSC. In the same match, striker Robert Lewandowski was thwarted in his attempt find the back of the net in a dozen consecutive home matches. He now shares the record with current coach Heynckes, who set the mark for Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1972-73.

However, you cannot keep a good man down for long. When the Pole completed his hat-trick against the hapless Hamburgers with a penalty in injury time, he took his total of Bundesliga goals in the famous red Trikot to a round century. At the same time, the Pole overhauled Brazilian striker Giovane Élber to become FC Bayern’s all-time foreign goalscorer in all competitions.

For the next record, it is just a matter of when rather than if. A sixth successive Bundesliga title. Then there is the record for the earliest date for becoming champions. If everything else falls into place this coming weekend, Die Roten will shave a week off the current mark set in 2013-14. They will also equal the record for the number of games to spare, the seven set by Pep Guardiola’s side in 2013-14.

Clicking into gear

FC Bayern would not be FC Bayern without an injury list of some sort, but this season things are looking a little less fraught than usual. Having no Kingsley Coman is a major loss, while Corentin Tolisso also suffered a knock against Hamburg. Manuel Neuer is still to return to the starting lineup. Unlike last season, the gaps are being filled.

In goal, Sven Ulreich continues to impress and has even been looked at as an option for Germany at the World Cup. Thomas Müller looks to have put his poor form behind him. Against Hamburg, Coman’s absence seemed to have been mitigated by a resurgent Franck Ribéry.

On the other side of the pitch, Arjen Robben also turned out a decent show. Some have argued that the Dutchman has started to live on borrowed time, but time and again he pulls something out of his bag of tricks. The cuts inside are a little less frequent than they used to be, but the magic is still there. The future is far from certain, but right now both Robben and Ribéry are crucial parts of the Bavarian offensive machinery.

Yes, it was only Hamburg. A team who are playing like a 3. Liga team at the moment. But the signs are there that Bayern could really start to click into gear.

Acid test in İstanbul

Champions League opponents Beşiktaş JK had made smooth progress into the knockout stages ahead of two-time Champions FC Porto. They had also disposed of RB Leipzig and AS Monaco, and for many watchers, the first leg had been billed as Bayern’s first real examination in what has been a fairly easy season. (Rocky start notwithstanding).

In the end, what should have been a testing fixture did not turn out as expected. The Turkish side started brightly at the Allianz, but Bayern would get a crucial break when Croatian defender Domagoj Vida was red carded for a foul on Lewandowski. Bayern took their time to get on the scoreboard, but after that, it was something of a procession as the home side eased to a 5:0 win.

One fancies that things will be a lot tougher in the second leg in the seething cauldron of the Vodafone Arena, built on the site of the former İnönü Stadium. Beşiktaş face a mountain to climb and the chances of them overturning the deficit are close to zero, but they will be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Bayern as they look to salvage their pride.

While Bayern fans will be hoping for a good result, we also want to see a tough match. It will not answer all of the remaining questions or make end-of-season predictions any easier, but it will hopefully give us some indication of just how good this Bayern team is.

Müller Magic

Last season, every Bayern fan was bemoaning the drop in form of Thomas Müller. A malaise that had lasted over a year. Finally, the winds have turned. We are starting to see the familiar Der Raumdeuter again, ghosting around the pitch and finding himself in strange goalscoring positions.

Against Beşiktaş, Müller scored twice. Even more noticeable was his team value. With Bayern four goals in front, he had every opportunity to finish off a stellar evening with a hat-trick. Instead, he plated up a simple pass for Lewandowski. Against SC Freiburg, Müller’s ability to cause chaos in the opposition box was epitomised by the ridiculous double deflection that was eventually credited to Freiburg ‘keeper Alexander Schwolow. It was the sort of chaos only our Tommy can create.

For opponents, Müller is something of a bad smell. Chanel number 25.

Social media has been amused by Müller’s horsing around, but we all know that he is a thoroughbred. Whenever he finds the back of the net, Bayern never lose. Not long ago he was being written off. Now, the gentle trot is turning into a steady gallop. We can only hope that things continue in this vein and that he is finding the back of the net in Kyiv in May.

Coaching conundrum

Bayern may be approaching top form on the pitch, but the question of who is going to be in the coaching hot seat next season continues to burn. Jupp Heynckes himself seemed to suggest that he will be finishing his contract as planned while talking up potential candidate Thomas Tuchel. Then, there was a subtle backtrack. Not so clear after all.

Oh, Herr Osram. You are a tease, mein Freund.

I said it in my last ramble and will say it again. If Don Jupp chooses to stay on, I am not going to complain. The majority of the fans would be happy, as would the players. Heynckes has attempted to clarify his remarks, but the reality is that we still have no idea how things are going to pan out.

Lewy rumours, Kimmich extends stay

Every other day, there is a story about Robert Lewandowski leaving Munich. One day he is going to Chelsea, the next, Real Madrid. The latest rumours have seen the “put any club here” space filled by mauvaise odeur Manchester United. Yawn. [Editor’s note: ça pue.]

If just to add more sludge to the rumour pot, Lewy has recently ditched Cezary Kucharski, his agent of 10 years. What does this mean? While some have seen it as part of an effort to engineer a move away from Munich, one can also argue that we are all finally rid of the guy who has largely been responsible for the leaking of the oft-circulated “Madrid dream move” rumours.

Entertaining as it is, the best advice is to avoid the stories dripping from the rumour mill. If the coach is not bothered, then we as fans should not be bothered. If an absurd amount of money is put on the table, things may change. For now at least, Lewy is not for sale. Ende.

On the upside, Joshua Kimmich has extended his contract, keeping him a Bayern player until 2023. Given his meteoric rise, “the kid” is setting himself up nicely to be a club legend.