Only the champions, steered recently by the midfielder, have been solid in a season of ups and downs in Germany
It is not quite Easter but the Bundesliga weekend was noticeably big on comebacks. In Mainz Bastian Schweinsteiger delivered his team from the looming disgrace of a third away draw of the season with a finely timed header in the 82nd minute; Mario Götze made it 2-0 soon after.
"Congratulations to Mainz. It was exactly what we needed – a truly aggressive opponent that fully challenged us," cheered Matthias Sammer after the 18th win in a row but Bayern's win against the trickiest team they have faced in this Bundesliga season was not enough to secure the championship. But Schweinsteiger's strong showing still assumed national importance.
In what was only his fifth start in 2014 the 29-year-old dominated proceedings with the typical, exalted Schweini-mix of power and technique and he scored his third important goal in as many games to silence his many doubters. Philipp Lahm's move into midfield, consistency from Toni Kroos and the arrival of Thiago had made it possible to contemplate a Bayern future without him.
In this form, however, he will not only be the fulcrum for Pep Guardiola at the business end of this campaign but he will be important for Jogi Löw in Brazil, too. The national team manager really can do with a saviour in central midfield right now – Ilkay Gündogan, fêted as the messiah not long ago, has not kicked a ball since August due to a persistent back problem.
"Bastian is very good, already," said Sammer, "the manager would say: he's soon top-top-top." "Bayern's regent", as the Munich tabloid Abendzeitung hailed him, controlled the middle of the park with 132 touches in 90 minutes and crucially found a way past a Mainz side who changed from a high-pressing game in the first half to an ultra-deep back five.
Guardiola and his men were genuine in their praise for the opposition; no one has come this close to shutting out the Reds this season. "It was fun today," said Pep after solving the Mainz manager, Thomas Tuchel's, puzzle, while Sammer's praise ("they made us switch from 97% to 100%") neatly doubled up as another overt attack on the rest of the league's docility. The patronising tone apart, he has a point.
That is more than could be said about 1. FC Nürnberg on Sunday. The Franconians had started the second half of the season with a great run of four wins in five games but a 5-2 defeat by Frankfurt – the third in a row against relegation rivals – plunged them back into the quagmire.
Under Gertjan Verbeek, "der Club" seemed to have rid itself of the cautiousness of the side managed by his predecessor Michael Wiesinger but attempting attacking football without the confidence to pull it off is a recipe for disaster.
"In the first half there was nothing but fear," said the Dutchman Verbeek. "When you play like an Absteiger [relegation team], then you will get relegated." There was a bit of a rally, once fear had given way to plain desperation after 53 minutes but by that stage Nürnberg were 3-0 down (Barnetta, 21; Joselu 49; Madlung 53). Though Josip Drmic (64) and José Campana (72) struck back with two expertly taken goals, the defender Javier Pinola – he of the unspeakable hair-do – got himself sent himself off with a professional foul on Joselu. The former Real Madrid striker converted the penalty himself before Vaclav Kadlec made it 5-2.
The Eintracht coach, Armin Veh, who had increasingly been seen as a lame duck – he is off in the summer – took flight on the touchline but the landing was painful: he sprained a ligament in his leg during the celebrations. For Nürnberg the damage is far worse. Pinola's suspension and a head injury for his fellow defender Ondrej Petrak, who had his nose broken by a Joselu elbow, pose grave problems before the next two six-pointers against Stuttgart and Freiburg.
The latter have kindly taken up the "comeback kids" mantle from Nürnberg, thanks to a 3-1 win at home to Bremen on Friday night. Freiburg have looked down and out for most of the season but, freed from their masochistic-wanderlust compulsion to seek out spankings in far-flung places – Uefa call this condition the "Europa League" – Christian Streich's low-budget grafters can once again concentrate on doing what they do best: to act as a battalion of human lawn-mowers. They covered every inch of the pitch and ran until Werder lost their bearings completely on Friday night.
"There was nothing at the back, nothing in the middle and nothing at the front," bemoaned their sporting director Thomas Eichin. James Richardson might sympathise with that plight.
Staying up is no longer beyond this side. But since the Bundesliga basement is not just dank and dark but also uncharacteristically crowded this season, it is tough to say who will be left behind once its lights are turned out. Bremen, for example, had thought they were out of this mess last week. Now that even Stuttgart are winning again – Huub Stevens beat his former club Hamburger SV 1-0 in classic Huub Stevens style, keeping a clean sheet and hoping for the best at the other end – predicting the outcome of the Abstiegskampf seems a futile exercise.
If truth be told, that is the way it has often been in this cherished league of ours and that is the way it is again, at least for 17 teams this season. None of them are quite sure whether they are coming or going, whether they are in the process of being reanimated or being read their last rites. Every comeback seems to be little more than the prelude to another setback and vice versa.
Take Dortmund and Schalke. One club has been to hell and back in terms of results (Schalke) and the other in terms of injuries (Dortmund), yet here they are, going into Tuesday's Revierderby as the second- and third-placed teams. Both are firmly on track with their domestic campaigns, in other words, and the result at the Signal Iduna Park is unlikely to make too much of a difference either way.
But that pragmatic view neglects the concerns bubbling beneath the surface. Another defeat – especially a heavy one – for Schalke in a big game will undoubtedly impact negatively on Jens Keller's prospects for next season. Conversely Dortmund losing at home would highlight the team's inconsistency in the league and stoke the debate about the number of injuries in the squad. Genuine progress remains a rare commodity in a league that seems to revel in uncertainty*. Only Bayern do not have to worry about where they are heading. They will be celebrating their 24th championship with a win at Hertha on Tuesday night. The party may be bittersweet. While it is nice to be on top, being at the top-top-top is just plain lonely.
Results: Freiburg 3-1 Bremen, Wolfsburg 1-1 Augsburg, Hannover 0-3 Dortmund, Schalke 3-1 Braunschweig, Mainz 0-2 Bayern Munich, Stuttgart 1-0 Hamburg, Mönchengladbach 3-0 Hertha, Nürnberg 2-5 Frankfurt, Leverkusen 2-3 Hoffenheim.
*The 36 clubs in the DFL rejected the introduction of goal-line technology on Monday.