Niko Kovac has called on James Rodriguez to bring his A game ahead of what promises to be a pivotal stage in Bayern Munich's season.
James, now into the final six months of a two-year loan deal from Real Madrid, missed the last four weeks of the Hinrunde with a knee ligament injury, but is training with the first team again at Bayern's winter training camp in Doha, Qatar after getting the all-clear from the club's medical team.
"He got the green light from the doctors, trained for the first time with us yesterday, and for the second time today," Bayern head coach Kovac told media on Sunday. "He's pain-free and is able to do everything again. I'm delighted to have him back."
'Down to him to earn a place in the team'
James, 27, played in 14 of Bayern's 18 matches in all competitions prior to his injury, making seven starts. He registered three goals and one assist in eight Bundesliga appearances in that time, and also laid on a goal in the UEFA Champions League group win at Benfica.
Although James' stats aren't quite as impressive as in his debut campaign - eight goals and 14 assists in 39 appearances over the course of the season - Kovac does not doubt the calibre of player he has at his disposal.
"I know he's a top player, I know what he can do," he continued. He's shown that not just here but at other big clubs. I expect top performances from him, just like I do any other player. We finished the first half of the season strongly, and competition for places is fierce, as is always the case. Now it's down to him to show he deserves a place in the team again."
Fighting on all three fronts
Bayern, who won six and drew two of the eight matches James missed, trail Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund by six points at the halfway stage of 2018/19. The record champions resume their title defence away to Hoffenheim on 18 January, and also have knockout games against Hertha Berlin (DFB Cup third round) and Liverpool (Champions League last 16) to come.
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