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Top spot at halfway mark

Mid-season leaders with much to ponder

Ottmar Hitzfeld spent much of Saturday’s match in Berlin shaking his head in dismay, and his downcast expression at the final whistle spoke volumes. “Given what’s happened in recent days, you’d think we were battling relegation,” the head coach told reporters. Bastian Schweinsteiger seemed similarly concerned that Munich might have slipped down the standings when no-one was looking. “I took another glance at the table just to make sure where we were,” he revealed on Saturday.

In fact, Bayern had just secured top spot in the Bundesliga at the halfway point in the season for the 16th time in their history, courtesy of the point gained in a goalless draw with Hertha BSC Berlin. “It’s time to stop moaning and just enjoy it,” admonished Uli Hoeneß, after a plethora of unflattering media reports about the club in recent days. “We’ve lost once in 17 matches. Whenever Bayern achieve anything, people go looking for the fly in the ointment.“

Level on points with Bremen

“We’ve achieved our interim goal,” Hitzfeld summarised. The team had “started very well this season. We set the bar very high with our spectacular early victories.“ However, the dazzling first couple of months had later become a burden: “We ourselves caused people to expect too much.“

Bayern were six points clear of Werder Bremen after ten games, but the Bavarians’ form tailed off in the remaining seven matches before the mid-season break, with just two victories, four goals, and no fewer than four goalless draws. Bremen have continued to make up ground and drew level on points with Munich at the weekend, although Bayern retain first place thanks to a superior goal difference.

Too much pretty stuff

“We’ve been in a rut over the last few weeks and lost our ruthlessness in front of goal,” Hitzfeld explained. Saturday’s match in Berlin followed a depressingly familiar pattern, as Bayern utterly dominated proceedings with 62 percent of the possession and 20 shots to the home side’s eight, but failed to force the ball over the line. “We combined well and looked good up until the penalty area, but we tried one too many flicks and tricks in the box itself,” Hitzfeld mused.

Mid-season training would now feature plenty of exercises aimed at improving the team’s finishing, the General announced. Another focus will be on schooling the players in methods of unpicking teams whose only ambition is to prevent the men in red scoring, by pulling nine or even ten outfield players back behind the ball. “After a certain point in time, opponents realised we were having problems against teams who defend with all eleven men,” Hoeneß noted. The Hertha clash was another case in point.

New club record in defence

The Bayern camp was generally keen to move on swiftly from Saturday’s stalemate. An outcome of that sort was always a possibility in the capital, reasoned Hitzfeld, declaring himself far more concerned over the number of points dropped at the Allianz Arena. “I’m still bothered about the goalless home draws against Frankfurt and Duisburg.“

Nevertheless, Hitzfeld can be fully satisfied with his defence at the midpoint of the campaign. “I only have praise for the defenders and the way the team as a whole has defended,” the head coach confirmed. A miserly eight goals against after 17 matches is a new club record, beating the previous best of eleven set in 1988-9.

Decent chance of title

Based on a solid defensive platform, and with the attack once again firing on all cylinders, Bayern will attempt to sprint off the blocks in the second half of the campaign, effectively silencing the club’s critics and doubters. “We’ll only win the championship if the situation here settles down again,” Hitzfeld warned.

The history books certainly speak in Bayern’s favour. Munich have been top of the league at the halfway mark on 15 previous occasions, going on to claim the championship shield 13 times. However, everyone at the club understands that titles are not won by probability or on paper. “We may be first in the league, but we know we’ve got a lot of work to do yet,“ Schweinsteiger concluded.

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