Bayern Munich awakening from winter-break hibernation
Despite seeing his side humbled 6-0 at home by Bayern Munich on Saturday, Paderborn manager Andre Breitenreiter waxed lyrical at the news conference and thanked "the world's best team and trainer for a wonderful experience." Perhaps the fact Breitenreiter is a former Bayern forward might explain his overly gracious post-match comments.
Admittedly, Bayern didn't have to be that good to beat a limited Paderborn side, but they were phenomenally effective in front of goal -- scoring from six of 17 shots on goal, while the hosts failed to breach Manuel Neuer in a worthy 13 attempts. Further examination reveals three consecutive Bundesliga wins for Bayern, racking up 16 unanswered goals in the process.
Thirty-one-year-old Arjen Robben is truly in the form of his life and making all the right moves for a 2015 Ballon d'Or nomination. The Dutchman added a brace on Saturday to take his impressive tally to 16 goals, already equalling his 2009-10 debut season in Bavaria under Louis van Gaal.
There's been some speculation in the press about Robert Lewandowski being unhappy with his role at Bayern. The Polish striker notched a first-half brace, which ended the game as a contest and took his Bundesliga goal tally to 10. Goals are always the best currency to silence the doubters and feel the love from the manager.
It would be folly to suggest that the Pole has been a poor signing. After all, he arrived on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Free. That's excellent business, as the Pole could have joined any of the European elite. Chelsea and Real Madrid are just two rival clubs who were desperately chasing his services, while we only have to reflect on Dortmund's demise to see how much Lewandowski's skills have been missed at BVB.
There was also a first away league goal of the season for Franck Ribery, while 20-year-old substitute Mitchell Weiser scored his first Bundesliga goal within moments of his introduction with a cute second-half lob over the keeper.
There are clear signs that the Bavarian machinery is clicking ominously into gear, having taken a while to awake from their hibernation after an elongated winter break. The club rather stumbled out of the blocks with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xabi Alonso partnered in midfield. In particular, the heavy defeat in Wolfsburg highlighted once again an alarming fallibility against the counter-attack and provided ample ammunition for the notion only one of the experienced duo fits into defensive midfield.
The sloppy draw at home against Schalke and the dour midweek European stalemate against Shakhtar Donetsk offered further evidence, as if any more were needed, in favour of the theory that it's one or the other in the deep-lying midfield role.
A pattern is emerging and Pep Guardiola may be a relieved man. Alonso is suspended for the second leg against Shakhtar on March 11, so the Catalan doesn't have to make any awkward decisions concerning his two World Cup-winning midfield maestros.
On Saturday in Eastern North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's new skipper languished on the bench for the whole game as the Spaniard took centre stage in the 6-0 demolition of Paderborn. We recall the injured Alonso had to sit out last week's 8-0 destruction of Hamburg, watching in awe as Schweinsteiger sublimely ran the show.
Barring a monumental shock against the Ukrainian side, it will be the skipper Schweinsteiger who leads the record Bundesliga winners into the last eight of the Champions League.
Competition for places will certainly heat up in coming weeks. Javi Martinez and Philipp Lahm will be nearing full fitness and will come into contention for any potential quarterfinal, while there are even faint hopes that Thiago could be back by the end of the season.
Rather conveniently, after racking up 20 consecutive wins against promoted sides, next up are last season's 2. Bundesliga champions Cologne. The form guide suggests there's likely to be some "Woe de Cologne" and Bayern could be celebrating again on Friday evening in Munich.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.