Munich - FC Bayern Munich underlined their billing as champions elect with another routine win over FC Augsburg on Saturday, which begs the question: just who can stop them?
"Games you have to win"
Holders Borussia Dortmund, for one, face an uphill battle after tasting defeat for the third time this season at the weekend - as many as they suffered during the entirety of 2011/12 - and falling a seemingly insurmountable 14 points behind Jupp Heynckes' high-flyers in the process. Bayer 04 Leverkusen are now the Bavarians’ nearest challengers in second.
"These are the sort of games you have to win if you’re going to be champions," said goalscorer Mario Gomez, who ended any lingering Augsburg resistance within two minutes of his second-half introduction. Bayern's super sub has now converted a third of his six chances since returning from injury on Matchday 13, while Mario Mandzukic passed up four scoring opportunites in the derby and remains without a goal since mid-November.
Coming back into the squad knowing he was, for the time being, going to have to play second fiddle to nine-goal Mandzukic cannot have been easy for last season’s irreplaceable No33 who, to his credit, does not look to have lost an inch of his trademark touch in front of goal. "Their second goal showed what individual class is all about," said Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl after the game.
However, for all their pacesetting plus points, even Bayern have some potential shortcomings. The absence of versatile defender Holger Badstuber could turn out to be a big miss once the season kicks on in the New Year, especially if Bayern pick up further injuries and suspensions. Left-back David Alaba has started only half of Bayern's league games following a stress fracture, while Jerome Boateng's sending off against BATE Borisov rules him out of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
Daniel van Buyten is viable alternative alongside the ever-present Dante but, at 35, his mobility and fitness are likly to leave him vulnerable against younger and quicker opposition. Javi Martinez, like Luis Gustavo and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, is a natural holding player with back-four experience, although Heynckes will be reluctant to break up the Spaniard's blossoming midfield partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger.
On the trail
Finally, as we've seen with the likes of FC Schalke 04 and Eintracht Frankfurt, no one is immune to a wobble. Not exactly a set of results to set alarm bells ringing, Bayern came close to stumbling following defeats to Borisov and Leverkusen and back-to-back 1-1 draws at 1. FC Nuremberg and FC Valencia. In any case, they hit back almost immediately with three points the following week.
If and when Bayern do genuinely falter, it's going to take a prolonged nosedive in form for the Bundesliga pacesetters to relinquish their hold on top spot. After all, this group of Bayern stars are an altogether different proposition to the side that gave away an eight-point lead on Dortmund last term. At this rate, it won’t just be the Yellow-Blacks' Bundesliga crown Bayern will be taking; they'll be trumping their record 81-point haul, too.
Christopher Mayer-Lodge reporting from Munich