It may only be a nominal title, but the Herbstmeisterschaft (autumn championship) is always well received at FC Bayern München.
"It’s a nice feeling," admitted Bayern captain Philipp Lahm after getting his name on the scoresheet in the 2-0 win over FC Ingolstadt 04 on Saturday. "It’s always nice to go in over Christmas and start the new year as league leaders."
A long way still to go
Bayern will be acutely aware that the Herbstmeisterschaft is usually a good omen. Taking into account all of the Bundesliga's previous 52 campaigns, the mid-season leaders have gone on to lift the title on 35 occasions. In Bayern’s case, they have only failed to take the top domestic prize in three of the 20 seasons in which they have reached the halfway point in pole position.
"There are still a lot of games to play between now and the end of the season," explained Robert Lewandowski, fresh from opening the scoring against Ingolstadt with his 15th Bundesliga goal of the season. "That’s why we have to give absolutely everything in every game and try to keep on winning."
Will and resolve
For long periods on Matchday 16, Bayern appeared to be in real danger of dropping points for only the third time this term. Ingolstadt created the better chances, while Bayern - without the cut and thrust of waylaid wingers Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Douglas Costa - struggled to make inroads in the final third. A few tactical adjustments combined with an innate determination to win, however, eventually prevailed.
"The team has learned how to fight together in order to reach a high level," revealed Pep Guardiola. "We've had problems with our build-up play for a long time, but at some point it improved, in part because of [substitute] Thiago. In the end our quality shone through. It’s been a good season for us so far, but I hope we can continue to improve on the last two or three games."
So far, so good
With only a slender lead over second-placed Borussia Dortmund, Guardiola does not need reminding that any further slip-ups such as last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach or the Matchday 11 goalless draw with Eintracht Frankfurt are unlikely to go unpunished. Bayern have been usurped in the new year by BVB before (2011/12) and it could quite easily happen again.
For now, though, Bayern - with one game still to go before the winter break - can begin to look back on yet another Hinrunde of superlatives with immense pride. A record fifth autumn championship is the very least they deserve and surely only a sign of things to come in 2016.
Maximilian Lotz/ Christopher Mayer-Lodge