Bayern Munich must not take minnows Ingolstadt for granted
Bayern Munich make the short trip up the A9 Autobahn to Ingolstadt on Saturday hoping to enjoy a repeat of their neighbours' generosity in a Bavarian derby.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge promised Ingolstadt, then bottom of the table, a wagon load of wheat beer and sausages for beating RB Leipzig shortly before the winter break, knocking Bayern's only challengers off the top of the table.
Proclaiming "we are lucky to have such good neighbours," Bayern's CEO was as a good as his word, supplying around 90 Ingolstadt staff with hearty Bavarian fare last month.
Struggling to rise from their slumber after a month's hibernation, below-par Bayern have spluttered to seven points out of nine, courtesy of a pair of fortunate 2-1 away victories in Freiburg and Bremen, and an equally stodgy 1-1 home draw with Schalke.
Last Saturday evening, BVB performed an Ingolstadt-like favour by beating Leipzig to enable Bayern to stretch their lead to four points. Perhaps Rummenigge will supply BVB with copious amounts of Weissbier and Weisswurst too?
As is normally the case, Robert Lewandowski will be Bayern's go to man on Saturday. Lewandowski has scored in each of their three wins against the Bavarian minnows, including a brace when Bayern secured their fourth title in a row with a 2-1 win in May.
Regardless of Ingolstadt's favour earlier in the season, Bayern can't afford any sentiment this time around by going easy on their lovely neighbours. If they do they are in trouble, even against a side that has risen to the dizzy heights of 17th (one place off the bottom). Apart from that shock 1-0 win over Leipzig, Die Schanzer also had Borussia Dortmund on the brink of defeat before collapsing late in a breathtaking 3-3 draw.
Despite stinking the place out for most of the season according to many pundits, Bayern have coasted 12 points clear of BVB, who were expected to challenge for the title. It says a lot about Bayern's remarkable ability to get results when not playing well. While giving massive credit to newly promoted Leipzig for their persistent challenge, you also have to question the overall mental strength of the Bundesliga.
It's obvious that most sides still don't believe they can topple the record German champions, despite their fallibility for long periods this season.
Tuesday's narrow cup win over Wolfsburg was hardly an improvement, but it does keep Carlo Ancelotti side's treble hopes alive. Subscribing to the theory that "a good horse only jumps as high as it has to," Bayern certainly didn't have to get very high off the ground against the woeful Wolves, winning through a deflected Douglas Costa shot in the 18th minute.
That turgid success was of course overshadowed by Philipp Lahm's retirement bombshell, and all is not well at the club as the beloved skipper prepares to step away at the end of the season. His retirement has already been well-documented, but clearly there's been a huge disconnect between the board and Lahm.
Despite SportBild breaking the story minutes before the Wolfsburg game, president Uli Hoeness furiously denied on TV that Lahm was set to retire. Embarrassingly for Hoeness, Bayern's longest serving player confirmed it was in fact true moments later in the mixed zone.
Cue a Bayern press statement the next day, expressing their "surprise" at their longest-serving player's approach.
With next Wednesday's Champions League last-16 clash in Munich already looming large, expect another narrow win against Ingolstadt before Bayern's attention quickly turns to Arsenal. It's high time that horse got his hind legs off the ground before galloping away from the Gunners once again.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.