Munich - The rest of the competition simply cannot keep pace with FC Bayern München this season. Following Matchday 25’s 2-1 win at home to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Pep Guardiola’s side are now 23 points clear at the top of the table after second-placed Borussia Dortmund were beaten at home by their namesake Mönchengladbach.
Schweinsteiger: 'Won it in Mainz before'
Bayern's lead is almost on a par with their title-winning 25-point margin from last season and the latest round of results means that they can wrap up the league as early as next week with victory away to 1. FSV Mainz 05. Carnival may recently have come to an end there, but the runaway leaders are intent on throwing their own celebrations.
“I can remember the last time we clinched the title in Mainz - it was brilliant because they [the Mainz fans] all celebrated with us,” said midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger at full-time in the Allianz Arena. “It would be great if we could do it there again but we really don’t mind where we win it.” Bayern had, in fact, already wrapped up the title before their 4-2 win at the 05ers on Matchday 32 of the 2004/05 season, but the fixture is obviously one that brings back certain emotions for Schweinsteiger.
Going into Matchday 26, his team are still dependent on other results as they bid to seal the league title. Closest competitors Dortmund must fail to win away at Hannover 96 and third-placed FC Schalke 04 need to drop points at home to bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig for a prospective Reds' win at the Coface Arena to ring in the Bavarians' 23rd Bundesliga triumph.
Practice makes perfect
Focusing on other clubs is not something that will occupy Guardiola’s men too much, however, after their 23rd win from 25 games this term. Following a somewhat laborious opening half-hour against Leverkusen - largely due to what Thomas Müller described as the visitors’ “sleep-inducing tactics” - the deadlock was broken by a Mario Mandzukic header from Schweinsteiger’s assist, before the Germany international then sealed the result with a superb second-half free-kick.
“I’ve been practicing hitting those free-kicks for a year or so now. It was an important goal to make it 2-0 and it settled us down,” said the man who captained the side in the absence of Philipp Lahm.
Timing it right
Schweinsteiger's contribution will have been all the more satisfying after perhaps his best performance in what has been a campaign blighted by ankle injuries. Against die Werkself he completed 90 minutes in the league for the first time since Matchday 11, having also gone the distance midweek against Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League. “I'm just trying to do my job,” said Schweinsteiger. “My ankle's holding up well and I'm trying to get fitter to get back to my best again and perform at the highest level.”
Evidently, then, the Kolbermoor-born star is finding form and fitness at the right time in a year that promises much, for both club and country. With the prospect of another end-of-season treble on the horizon, as well as this summer's FIFA World Cup, it is not just Bayern fans hoping he can stay injury-free, and Schweinsteiger will not have forgotten how the last tournament year ended.
Plagued by shoulder and ankle problems in the second half of the 2011/12 campaign, he was a shadow of himself as the team then coached by Jupp Heynckes ended the season as runners-up in three competitions and Germany exited UEFA EURO 2012 at the semi-final stage. This year, it is expected, will bring him somewhat improved fortunes.
Bayern's Manuel Neuer made it into this week's Top 5 Saves on the Official Bundesliga YouTube account: