Bayern Munich have a second opportunity to wrap up a 27th Bundesliga title and the first to be clinched in their Allianz Arena home in Saturday’s Der Klassiker with Borussia Dortmund.
Since the Allianz Arena opened in 2005, Bayern have been crowned German champions on no fewer than eight occasions, but in a quirk of fate and the fixture list, none of those title parties have started with the final whistle in a home fixture.
Watch: It's Der Klassiker time once again!
That would also have been true last weekend had Jupp Heynckes’ side equalled their own speed record for securing a title win with victory at RB Leipzig on Matchday 27, but their 2-1 defeat, and wins for Schalke and Dortmund, means having to wait at least another 90 minutes.
“Obviously we want to win the title as soon as possible,” said goalkeeper Sven Ulreich. “Hopefully we can bounce back at home to Dortmund and wrap things up.”
To do that, Bayern must rely on Freiburg to pick up at least a point against Schalke at the Veltins Arena on Saturday afternoon, and then beat Dortmund later in the day to secure the title. Should Schalke win, Bayern will have to wait another week at least.
If Schalke lose and Bayern draw, the Royal Blues could still theoretically catch the league leaders, but Bayern’s significantly better goal difference — currently +46 to +11 — means they would be all but champions in name. A defeat for Bayern against their age-old rivals, and the pursuit of the title goes on for another Matchday at least.
Though Heynckes missed the opportunity to match his successor Pep Guardiola on Matchday 27, the veteran Bayern boss could this weekend equal his own personal record for a Bundesliga title win - his fourth - which he set in 2012/13. Yes, the season of the treble.
Whether such a precocious domestic triumph is an omen that that historic and as yet unique achievement will be repeated this year remains to be seen, but it will give Heynckes crucial wriggle room in terms of squad rotation with Bayern set for a punishing few weeks.
With a DFB Cup semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen and a UEFA Champions League quarter-final with Sevilla looming, Bayern’s squad will play every three days over the next three weeks. Make that a muscle-straining strength-sapping five weeks if they see off Sevilla and progress to the Champions League semi-finals.
“It’s great, yes, but it’s also going to be very tough,” declared centre-back Mats Hummels, who will get little downtime while on international duty with Germany.
“It’ll be a real test if we stay in all competitions. Of course we’re looking forward to it, that’s what we want, but it will also be a challenge physically.”
Alongside Hummels with the World Cup winners is Thomas Müller, who acknowledged “a change of scenery can do you good”, and sent out the ominous warning that Bayern’s silverware devouring beast is not sated: “We’re still hungry.”
They will need to be against a Dortmund side unbeaten in 12 in the league under Peter Stöger, who has rejuvenated the squad and BVB’s season since replacing Peter Bosz in December.
Eighth, five points off second when Stöger took charge after Matchday 15, Dortmund have charged up the table, slotting snugly into third place, a point behind arch-rivals Schalke ahead of Der Klassiker. Stöger, who was beaten by Bayern in the DFB Cup in only his third competitive match in charge, insisted his podium-pursuing pack will play the party poopers in Bavaria.
“We haven’t lost in 12, and we don’t want to facilitate the title party in Munich,” Stöger explained. “We absolutely don’t want to be there when Bayern celebrate the title.”
While Bayern are expected to be at full strength — Manuel Neuer’s long-term foot problem and Kingsley Coman's injury apart - Dortmund have concerns over Shinji Kagawa and Marco Reus. Kagawa has sat out the last five matches with an ankle injury while Reus’ adductor problem meant he missed last weekend’s 1-0 win at home to Hannover.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” replied a poker-faced Stöger, who could also be missing Ömer Toprak (thigh), when asked about the pair featuring in Munich. Reus’ absence in particular will be felt with the Germany international not so much on song as performing masterpieces in front of rapt audiences in recent weeks.
Since returning after being sidelined for nine months with a knee injury sustained in last season’s DFB Cup final, Reus has been in stunning form, but nine games in fewer than six weeks has taken a toll on his body.
“It was clear that it would be a little more difficult for him at a time,” explained Stöger, who has seen Reus contribute three goals in five Bundesliga games since making his comeback on Matchday 22. “Marco has helped immensely in a very short time.”
Watch: Bayern came out 3-1 winners in this season's first Klassiker!
Another who has hit some of his best form is Andre Schürrle. The 57-time Germany international — a member of the 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning squad — was a notable and surprise absence from Joachim Löw’s squad for the upcoming friendlies with Spain and Brazil.
“I would have taken Schürrle too,” Stöger said after seeing the former Leverkusen, Chelsea and Wolfsburg man register three goals and four assists in his last 11 competitive outings. “He’s doing really well for us.”