Star recruit Arturo Vidal finally finding form for Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich's treble-seeking bandwagon may have slightly gone off the rails since the winter break but Arturo Vidal has been "reVidalised" after a month's hibernation.
Vidal, Bayern's biggest buy of last summer at €37 million from Juventus, arrived to much fanfare with Champions League success in mind, but failed to justify the hefty price tag it took to lure him from Italy during his early days in Bavaria.
Perhaps understandably, he often looked jaded in his first six months with Bayern. The 28-year-old has been at full tilt for club and country year-in, year-out, garnering four straight Scudettos and last season chauffeured the Old Lady all the way to the Champions League final, before crowning all that with a Copa America success with Chile in 2015.
The combative box-to-box midfielder is an aggressive leader, an emotional, unpredictable, no-nonsense character in the mould of former fans' favourites and skippers Mark van Bommel and Stefan Effenberg.
Having come up agonisingly short in successive Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid and Barcelona, Vidal was seen as the proverbial missing piece of the jigsaw in Bayern's quest to make it third time lucky in Europe under Pep Guardiola.
Horribly exposed in those semifinal defeats, susceptible and naive against the counter-attack, Vidal was brought in to offer more protection and add midfield bite to Bayern's soft underbelly, especially in those marquee European clashes.
Despite being unable to find a niche in Guardiola's possession-based system and struggling to rediscover his best form, Vidal managed to feature in every Bundesliga league game this season, until sitting out last weekend's win in Wolfsburg.
In the face of all the rumblings, the Chilean has emerged reinvigorated in 2016. Apparently all he needed was a break to recharge his batteries and recover that missing "Vidality."
"Arturo is a machine, a big game player," explains Bayern's technical director Michael Reschke. Nobody knows Vidal's qualities better than Reschke, who also snapped up Vidal when he was general manager of Leverkusen in 2007.
King Arturo has exuded that big-game mentality, reserving his two standout performances of the season for both of Bayern's toughest tests so far this season.
The extra motivation of impressing his former club also helped in Vidal's resurgence in the New Year. The 28-year-old thrived in his return to Turin in the Champions League first leg against Juventus. With the tie tantalisingly poised at 2-2, he looks primed for the second leg against the Old Lady in Munich next Wednesday.
Vidal also flourished during Bayern's most meaningful domestic match of the season. He could so easily have been the match-winner in Saturday's much-hyped Klassiker in Dortmund when his fierce shot rattled the crossbar just after the hour mark. On closer inspection, only an amazing reflex save from Dortmund keeper Roman Burki denied him a certain goal and Bayern a precious lead.
With the title race supposedly back on, Dortmund blew the opportunity to narrow the gap at the top to just two points. Bayern enjoyed the better chances but were again profligate in front of goal. Douglas Costa was the main culprit after choking on a one-on-one when clean through in the first half, while both Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller will rue their multiple misses.
However, despite an array of squandered chances, Guardiola's charges will be the more contented of the two sides as the champions maintained the status quo, preserving a five-point cushion at the top.
Muller echoed this sentiment after the final whistle: "we can live with a 0-0 draw," he said.
Although (shock, horror) Bayern have failed to win in two games, a historic fourth title in succession still looks a formality. With a healthy five-point advantage still safely intact, the Bavarians would have to lose two of their remaining nine games and BVB win all theirs to let the title slip. This is highly unlikely, given Bayern have tasted defeat only twice all season in the league.
But huge credit must go to Thomas Tuchel's men for at least giving us a title race to enjoy for 72 hours this season.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Twitter: @LovellLowdown.