"How about that for a first Bundesliga hat-trick?" James Rodriguez instigated another Bayern Munich rout against Mainz. - © Imago
"How about that for a first Bundesliga hat-trick?" James Rodriguez instigated another Bayern Munich rout against Mainz. - © Imago
bundesliga

James Rodriguez: Bayern Munich's hat-trick hero and MD26's Man of the Matchday

Bayern Munich having been enjoying one of their best periods of the season in recent weeks, and their upswing in fortunes just happens to have coincided with creative maestro James Rodriguez being restored to the starting line-up after injury.

In the space of a month, the Bavarian giants have overtaken Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga on goal difference following a trio of devastating wins: 5-1 at Borussia Mönchengladbach, and 6-0 at home to Wolfsburg and Mainz.

After being sidelined for nearly two months with a knee ligament problem, James has returned stronger than ever, and the Colombian's excellent recent performances have convinced Niko Kovac to start him in Bayern's last seven league assignments. That's more starts in little over one month than he managed throughout the whole of the Hinrunde.

Watch: How James runs the show for Bayern

In those seven games, the record champions have registered six wins and one defeat. The solitary loss came at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 20, when James was making his first league start since mid-November. He soon got back into the groove, though – in the home win over Schalke a week later, he teed up Robert Lewandowski for his 100th goal at the Allianz Arena. Further assists followed in the league victories over Hertha Berlin, Gladbach and Wolfsburg.

Aside from his well-documented ability to slice a ball through a Bundesliga defence like a hot knife through butter – he boasts a pass completion rate of 87.5 per cent – James possesses remarkable tactical intelligence, easily adapting to the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 systems favoured by Kovac. He hasn't been shirking his defensive responsibilities either, winning over half of his challenges, while his set pieces are delivered with laser-like precision. Just ask Javi Martinez, who has scored more than one Bundesliga goal in a season for the first time since 2012/13 after nodding in from two of James' heat-seeking corners.

"I've always said that James Rodriguez is an extraordinary player," Kovac enthused after the Colombian played 119 minutes of the 3-2 DFB Cup win over Hertha Berlin in February, clipping a lovely ball through to Serge Gnabry for Bayern's second. "We needed to ease him in somewhat after his injury, but when he's fit he plays like he did against Hertha: brilliantly! And that's the best argument for selecting him."

James has notched four Bundesliga goals and three assists since returning from injury. - 2019 DFL

James is likely to retain his place when Bayern resume their title defence away to Freiburg on 30 March, before hosting Dortmund in Der Klassiker. Whether he starts in front of holding duo Martinez and Thiago, or alongside one of the Spaniards and the more attacking Leon Goretzka, the Colombia playmaker is sure to play a central role. If all goes to plan, the record champions could be as many as six points clear at the top come full-time at the Allianz Arena on 6 April.

And if his performance against Mainz on Matchday 26 is a barometer of what can be expected from James during the run-in, Bayern could well be laughing their way to an unprecedented seventh successive Bundesliga title. The Real Madrid loanee ran roughshod over the visiting defence, scoring three sublime goals to complete his first career hat-trick since his formative years in Portugal with Porto (2011), before going off to a standing ovation with 17 minutes to go.

Watch: James "happy" with first Bayern hat-trick

"I'm happy to have scored my first hat-trick here," James told bundesliga.com after the final whistle. "I hope to get more. The most important thing is that we played well. We've scored a lot of goals in our last few games in the Bundesliga, so I'm happy about that."

Kovac struck a similar chord: “I think he did extraordinarily well, not just because he scored three goals – that’s the icing on the cake – but he did well, always demanding the ball, distributing it, shifting the play, got the opposition moving, and that’s what we need. You could see his quality there, and the fact he scored three goals says all you need about his quality.

"I'm happy for him that he scored three goals today, and got such a great round of applause. We still have a couple of months to consider our deal for him and then we'll see if he stays."

On current form, it is hard to imagine a Bayern without James. It would be anything but a surprise if Germany's most successful club opt to make his two-year loan deal from Madrid permanent this summer.