Resurgent Bayern face biggest test yet at glorious Gladbach
This seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Bundesliga has been a journey full of surprises. So much so that it's big news when the most successful club in German football, Bayern Munich, win three games in a row Ã¢ÂÂ and that Borussia Moenchengladbach, who flirted with relegation last season, would be the definitive test for the in-form Munich side.
Bayern have welcomed the business end of the Bundesliga season with an ease that has eluded them until now. With 20 goals in their past three games, the Bavarians have not only rekindled hopes of a title challenge, but also restored the fascination with this seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Champions League final at their own Allianz Arena.
The winning spree started on Saturday 10 March when a slapdash Hoffenheim side were mercilessly torn apart 7-1. But the trigger for the good form was the previous Saturday, when Leverkusen overcame a travelling Bayern side, that had too often seen disappointment on the road, by two goals to nil.
Considering that was just 10 days after an embarrassing first-leg Champions League defeat in Basel, many feared this was the beginning of the end for Jupp Heynckes and his squad. Sporting director Christian Nerlinger publicly denounced the result, stating that Bayern had effectively handed the title to Dortmund and Ã¢ÂÂ after the Basel humiliation Ã¢ÂÂ managed to rule themselves out of another trophy. For most, this is what Arjen Robben & Co deserved: a fruitless season that embodied little progress on the pitch or off it.
THE FUNDESLIGA, Tue 21 Feb: Which Bayern will turn up in Basel?
Yet in a plot twist befitting the club nickname FC Hollywood, this criticism seems to have awoken a passion in Heynckes' ego-filled squad and inspired a siege mentality that will have no doubt saved the German coach a few blushes come the end of the season.
Three days after demolishing Hoffenheim 7-1, Bayern crushed Basel 7-0. Such a scoreline instilled confidence that the previous result wasnÃ¢ÂÂt simply a blip, but also marked the return of the Bayern side that had shown a real hunger for European success earlier on in the season by battling through a Champions League group of death containing Manchester City, Napoli and Villarreal.
Immediately after brutalising Basel, Bayern travelled to the Olympiastadion to make short work of a Hertha side that are well and truly self-destructing. After brushing aside the Berliners 6-0 Ã¢ÂÂ making Bayern's aggregate score for the week 20-1 Ã¢ÂÂ Heynckes was quick to declare that his sideÃ¢ÂÂs rapture wasnÃ¢ÂÂt down to a fault in the opposition, but a mixture of team spirit and camaraderie that only the greatest sides could obtain.
Robben's hot streak has helped rejuvenate Bayern's season
Whether Heynckes can take credit is up for debate. Throughout the three games in question, Robben Ã¢ÂÂ often overlooked by his coach this season Ã¢ÂÂ has been the key man with seven goals and five assists, which is definitely better than any form heÃ¢ÂÂd shown for the club beforehand.
If BayernÃ¢ÂÂs inconsistency can be put down to relying solely upon Franck Ribery for most of this season, then this current run of form is certainly down to the addition of their Dutch superstar, with no thanks from the coach.
Similarly, the side still struggles from defensive blunders and tactical deficiencies that would be picked up on by most coaches, but not Heynckes. For better or for worse, this Bayern side will continue to rely upon its exquisite attacking parts to make up for deficiencies in not only its defensive aspects, but also its general make-up. Whether Heynckes would be willing to admit it or not, BayernÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂtogethernessÃ¢ÂÂ is only more coincidental than the easy run of games his side have had over the past two weeks.
However, such a system will be put to the test this Wednesday when Bayern travel to Monchengladbach to face Marco Reus & Co for the third time this season. Having lost both league games 1-0, Bayern will have their resurgence severely tested in the DFB Cup semi-final.
THE FUNDESLIGA, Fri 10 Feb: Last year's drop-dodgers clash as rejuvenated title challengers
A side built from the ground up by the fine tactician Lucien Favre, Gladbach define everything that this current Bayern side seem to stand against: order, tactical knowhow, defensive awareness, and a collective ability to attack as a team.
Although very much built upon the ability of playmaker and talisman Marco Reus, the Foals' unequalled ability to adapt around their managerÃ¢ÂÂs tactics has helped them pick up league points off the other big-four teams, Schalke and Dortmund. The champions and leaders, Dortmund await the winners in the DFB Cup final, having overcome second-tier Greuer Furth on Tuesday night with a goal in the last minute of extra time.
There is arguably no tougher German side than Gladbach to face in a one-off test between two sides. BayernÃ¢ÂÂs tilt at domestic and European success may well be defined by how well they do in this tie, come Wednesday night.