Bayern looking for strong finish
The Bavarians, who face Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup last 16 next week in their last competitive game of the year, are on course for a record-extending sixth straight Bundesliga crown.
Revitalized after Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti two months ago, Bayern has had to cope with injuries to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and then his replacement Sven Ulreich, which forced 36-year-old Tom Starke out of retirement.
The absence of Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara due to injury has also hindered the team up front, with Bayern having more than 75 percent possession against bottom club Cologne on Dec. 13 but missing a hatful of chances in a 1-0 win.
“We already have a busy schedule behind us and still got two big matches coming up,” Heynckes said in explaining his team’s lackluster performance on Dec. 13.
The coach, who led Bayern to a treble in 2013 including the Champions League, said his players were missing their usual spark and precision, while his defense was a step too slow.
“After taking the lead the team knew very well that there are still two more matches left this year,” said Bayern’s Thomas Mülller. “We do not have 100 percent left in the reserve tank at this point.”
But it was still enough to send Bayern nine points clear of second-placed Schalke 04, which is on 29 points.
Schalke, unbeaten in its last 10 league matches, travels to in-form Eintracht Frankfurt, which has only two losses in its previous 10 Bundesliga games.
Borussia Dortmund, which notched its first win since September on the debut of new coach Peter Stoeger on Dec. 12 to move into sixth on 25 points, will be hoping its recovery will continue against visiting Hoffenheim on Dec. 16.
Bayer Leverkusen, fourth on 27, has quietly climbed up the table on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run and faces Hanover on Dec. 17.