The Bavarians will end the year top of the table, but are mindful of last January's disastrous collapse that cost them the title
Who cares about the finishing time in a title race that no one's ever really been too bothered to win? The biggest surprise of this midweek round of fixtures perhaps wasn't so much Bayern Munich securing the (purely ceremonial) title of "Herbstmeister" (literally: autumn champions, even though it should be "winter champions", "end-of-calendar-year champions" or maybe let's-just-make-up-our-own-little-honour-sponsored-by-Arsène-Wenger-champions") in record-busting fashion with three games to go, but the fact that somebody in the DFL's stats basement had been keeping a record of these inconsequential efforts in the first place.
Granted, as non-achievements go, it's a pretty good one. An economy-mode 2-0 win at SC Freiburg on Wednesday night took the Bavarians 10 points clear of the competition, so they'll be spending Christmas on top of the Bundesliga tree. They've only dropped five points so far, notching up 40 goals and conceding just five – these are record figures, too. But the painful memory of last season, when Jupp Heynckes men finished the year in first place before falling apart completely in January made for very muted celebrations.
"Herbstmeister? It buys us nothing," sniffed Thomas Müller, the scorer of Bayern's first goal from the penalty spot. "I'm still young, but have been around enough to know what can happen. Everyone was going on about us being Herbstmeister and how we would be celebrating come next May when we were in Qatar (in the training camp) last year. You always need a second half of the season. We have to be careful [not too read too much into that]."
It's hard to argue with Bayern's numbers. But the manner of the win at the Breisgau was contentious, as Müller conceded. It shouldn't have been. Bayern were 1-0 up (Freiburg defender Oliver Sorg was penalised for handling the ball in the box) and the hosts a man down by the time 16 minutes were played after Fallou Diagne was sent off for a professional shirt-pull on Xerdan Shaqiri. With Saturday's clash against Dortmund in mind, Bayern stopped playing altogether after that. Their game descended into a purely bureaucratic exercise – all of the half-hearted effort went towards maintaining the status quo and possession became an end in itself.
Freiburg, by contrast, gave it a go. Bayern were almost lethargic enough to let them back into the match, but substitute Anatoliy Tymoshchuk killed off all hopes of a comeback with a deep, offside-trap eluding run past keeper Oliver Baumann 11 minutes from time.
SC coach Christian Streich, the man responsible for the side's incredible run in recent weeks, was conflicted in his emotions after the final whistle. The 47-year-old went into word-association mode, making about seven different points in a sentence that seemed to stretch over a couple of minutes. "It's always [a] penalty against us, because we are small," he complained. "But we respect that. I say nothing, it's OK. Today, we fought like lions. It doesn't matter if people want us to go somewhere else. We'll see who'll go down, we'll see if we get relegated. Yellow card, red card – do you know what happened to us today?"
Streich was right in the sense that Bayern rode their luck when Javier Martínez saw a ball bounce on to his arm in not too dissimilar fashion to Sorg's, but wasn't punished. Still, this defeat wasn't a grave injustice, merely the expected outcome after the visitors' attempt to gamble with personnel – Bastian Schweinsteiger was rested for fears he'd pick up a fifth yellow card ahead of Dortmund's visit – and the amount of work they put in so nearly backfired.
"We're happy about the three points, but they way we won is debatable," said Müller. "It's strange, this wasn't the first time we had trouble against a decimated team. We have to think of something better for next time."
The inference was that Bayern struggle when complacency sets in. That particular problem has beset the Reds for the best part of four decades, of course, but the Freiburg win also underlined a key difference this season. Heynckes' superstar ensemble have played with a lot more determination and hunger than usual, even to the point of adding selfless pressing high up the pitch, Dortmund-style, to the mix. Going through the motions like Wednesday night has become the exception rather than the rule. And it has taken either special circumstances, like saving energy for the Dortmund game or the opposition being a man down, for them to lose their focus.
Maybe the record dash to the invisible Herbstmeisterschaft trophy is meaningful, after all. Previous Bayern teams would have been content to plant their fat behinds at the top of the table and lazily ride the wave of their superiority with dull, laboured Freiburg-type wins. This year, however, they play like a team in hurry, eager to wake up from their own personal nightmare of two years without honours* as quickly as possible.
*DFL Supercup excluded.
• While Bayern have managed to become a little more like Dortmund, the champions' attempt to play bit like the old Bayern was less successful against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Tuesday night. Jürgen Klopp's rotation policy – Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan and Mario Götze were all rested – looked like paying off when Jakub Blaszczykowski fired home a wonderful opener shortly before the break, but the subsequent substitutions of Marco Reus and the aforementioned goalscorer made Dortmund lose their way. "We had no clear idea, we were between seeing out the result and something else," said Klopp. But slowing down doesn't come naturally to the Black and Yellows. Urgency became absent altogether from their game, and Stefan Reisinger was allowed to nod in the equaliser with 12 minutes to.
"We gambled and blew it," said defender Neven Subotic with a wry smile. It was telling that sporting director Michael Zorc only talked about a missed chance to put more daylight between Dortmund and other Champions League contenders like Schalke (3-1 losers at Hamburg) and Frankfurt (3-1 home defeat by Mainz). An 11-point gap behind Bayern has taken the sting out of Saturday's summit. Even a win at the Allianz Arena will probably not be enough for Klopp's men to defend their title this year.
• The Bundesliga is a serious business, but sometimes it's a kindergarden. Fortuna captain Andreas "Lumpi" Lambertz was hauled away from the cameras by general manager Wolf Werner during a Sky interview. Werner had taken exception to the channel's match commentary and told Lambertz that "we don't talk to them today, they've blasted us". Lambertz managed to stammer a bemused "why not?" before Werner frogmarched him into the changing room. "We demand more respect for our team," Werner declared the next day.
• Shawn Parker – the German Under-20 striker, not his namesake, the founder of Napster – was the star of the show in Frankfurt. The young Mainz forward scored a goal against Eintracht and set up one another in his first Bundesliga start. It was the kind of performance that had been coming from Thomas Tuchel's gang. Mainz have only been a bit of cutting edge away from going on a really fine run; in Parker and Ádám Szalai, they seem have to found a winning combination that can turn their often superior match strategies into tangible results. Mainz are only four points adrift of fifth-placed Frankfurt now.
• Bayer Leverkusen dished out a lesson in efficiency at Werder to become Bayern's closest pursuers. They won 4-1 in Bremen and climbed to second spot. But all talk of a title challenge was batted away. "We won't lose our heads," said Rudi Völler. "Bayern are doing their own thing up there, we're happy to consolidate our position," said Gonzalo Castro, one of the unsung heroes behind their strong performances.
• For 12 minutes and 12 seconds, supporters in every stadium protested silently against the adoption of new safety measure by the league. It was a spooky, unsettling experience, likened by some commentators to murmurs at a funeral – and a powerful demonstration of just how much atmosphere would be lost if hardliners and populist politicians are allowed to use a big, repressive hammer to crack the relatively small nut of fan misbehaviour.
Results: Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Fortuna Düsseldorf, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-3 Mainz 05, Hamburg SV 3-1 Schalke 04, FC Nürnberg 4-2 Hoffenheim, SC Freiburg 0-2 Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover 96 2-0 Greuther Fürth, VfB Stuttgart 2-1 FC Augsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-0 VfL Wolfsburg.