Cologne - A glance at the home dugout during last weekend's game against Eintracht Frankfurt was all it took to establish just how acute the personnel situation is at the moment for FC Bayern München. Only four players could be found there as the action got underway - Sebastian Rode, Holger Badstuber, Gianluca Gaudino and, being given an afternoon off, first-choice keeper Manuel Neuer.
Feeling 'a bit flat'
The all-star cast watching proceedings from the stand at the Allianz Arena was rather more comprehensive, including as it did Arjen Robben, David Alaba, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Jerome Boateng, Medhi Benatia and Javi Martinez. For all that, those who remained still had more than enough firepower to blow away their Frankfurt visitors. Robert Lewandowski's fine brace and an equally audacious strike from Thomas Müller wrapped up a 3-0 win that kept the record champions ten points clear of VfL Wolfsburg and moved them another step closer to the successful defence of their title.
Earlier in the week, a penalty shoot-out victory at Bayer Leverkusen had seen them into the semi-finals of the DFB Cup for the sixth year running and Pep Guardiola's men are still in with a chance of serving up an encore to the memorable 2012/13 treble-winning campaign. To do so, however, they will now have to overcome a 3-1 deficit from the away leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final meeting with FC Porto.
Match-defining early defensive blunders from Xabi Alonso and Dante notwithstanding, club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was reluctant to be overly critical after the contest in the northern Portuguese city. “We've got 13 or 14 fit players, turning out three times a week. They fought like mad at Dortmund and went 120 minutes at Leverkusen. At some point, that's all going to leave you a bit flat,” Rummenigge acknowledged.
No football miracle
Disappointed as they were with a below-par performance, the players themselves voiced cautious optimism about their prospects of making the last four. Skipper Philipp Lahm, who will miss Saturday's trip to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim with a stomach virus, reckons “2-0 or better” is an eminently feasible outcome for the return while in a similar vein, Müller noted that that “us winning a home game 2-0 would hardly amount to a football miracle.”
It's not all bad news for Guardiola on the personnel front, though. Alongside the fact that Lewandowski has hit a timely vein of scoring form, with nine goals in his last eight league games, the coach has been able to welcome Thiago Alcantara back into the competitive fold after a year on the sidelines. The gifted midfielder followed up on his first starting appearance against Frankfurt with the away goal in Porto that could yet prove Bayern's lifeline to a place in the semi-finals of Europe's top club competition.
Thiago return a blessing
The Frankfurt game demonstrated just how much Thiago can contribute to a depleted Bayern's cause over the all-deciding weeks ahead. The sleek, creative heart of much of their forward play, he looked like a man who had never been away. And, indeed, Guardiola's first signing in Munich could clearly not have wished for a better 24th birthday present than simply being in the thick of the action once again. “We live, sleep and eat to play football,” he said after the game. “Now I'm back on the pitch and I'm just enjoying it.”