Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac believes his side’s dominant performance in Saturday’s handsome Klassiker victory over Borussia Dortmund "needs to be the benchmark" for the Reds in the final six games of the season.
After an indifferent week or so in which the champions dropped points in the league and almost suffered a disastrous elimination in the DFB Cup, the Croatian saw his side provide something of a riposte in their 5-0 crushing of their title rivals on Saturday evening.
A first-half blitz had Bayern four goals up at the break, with Robert Lewandowski making history by scoring his 200th Bundesliga goal to precipitate an easy win. Yet there had been significant pressure on the Bavarians coming into a game many felt they simply had to win.
Kovac’s men had drawn at Freiburg and scraped through 5-4 against second-tier side Heidenheim in the DFB Cup in midweek. Beginning Saturday’s encounter a point behind Borussia, there was therefore a certain pressure on them not only to win but also to win well.
The 47-year-old was thus delighted to see his side rise to the challenge against BVB and put into practice exactly what they had planned.
"After the Freiburg and Heidenheim matches we looked at what we did well and what we didn’t do well and tried to put that right," he said. "We wanted to press them high, keep them hemmed in and win the ball in dangerous areas. Today we showed everything that I want and expect from the team, and what we did at the beginning of the season. We could and should have won by a bigger margin.
"At the start of the season we put in performances like that, where we put the opponent under pressure right from the off and took control of matches. Winning a game like this in the manner in which we did so is really good. That performance needs to be the benchmark for us now."
Watch: Niko Kovac reflects on "benchmark" win
Mats Hummels echoed his coach’s sentiments, making clear his satisfaction that the team recognized the importance of the game and of the opponent, and embraced their responsibility to entertain in the Bayern way.
"Before the game we said that we wanted to attack the game and make sure we showed people that we knew we were playing at home [and would play like the home team], which was what we didn’t do against Liverpool [in the Champions League] here.
"That’s what we as players want to see and what anyone connected with Bayern wants to see. We knew the focus had to be on keeping them from scoring and dominating the game ourselves, and we managed to do that."
Watch: Klassiker viewing parties across the globe
With six games to go, Bayern lead the standings and BVB by a point, with their goal difference advantage over Dortmund having jumped from +5 at the beginning of the day to +15 by the final whistle.
Their run-in is by no means easy – the Reds finish the campaign against top-four chasing RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt – but they will be most observers’ favourites to go the distance this time, particularly if history-maker Lewandowski has anything to do with it.
"He’s amazing, one of the best in the world," gushed teammate and fellow goalscorer Javi Martinez. "He scores over 20 goals every season and we know how hard that is. Congrats to my teammate, he's such a good player. Hopefully more goals are coming and he can help us to the Bundesliga title."