Bayern wary of Freiburg trip as they return from month-long Winterpause
Snow and ice have gripped Germany, but the Bundesliga's month-long hibernation finally comes to a much-anticipated end on Friday with league leaders Bayern Munich travelling to play SC Freiburg.
And the hosts have an excellent opportunity of catching Bayern cold and at their most vulnerable. We only have to go back a couple of years when a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Wolfsburg took advantage of Bayern's winter slumber to hand Pep Guardiola's side an embarrassing 4-1 defeat on resumption after the Winterpause.
So eighth-placed Freiburg must act fast before the well-oiled Bavarian machinery starts clicking through the gears. Furthermore, Bayern lost 2-1 on their previous visit, too, to the Breisgau in May 2015 in what proved to be Bastian Schweinsteiger's last ever away Bundesliga game for Bayern. Then relegation-bound Freiburg sealed victory courtesy of former Bayern striker Nils Petersen's last-minute strike.
Bayern have been battling the freezing temperatures back in Germany and picking up colds and sniffles on the way -- following eight days basking in the Doha sunshine in Qatar during their New Year winter training camp. Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and Javi Martinez have all succumbed to illness since returning to Germany, but all are back in training and expected to travel to the Breisgau.
Bayern secured the Telekom Cup on Saturday in Dusseldorf, but Arturo Vidal's rib injury soured that first success of 2017. As a result, the Chilean hasn't trained fully with the team all week, making him a doubtful starter for Friday.
Thiago's untimely muscle injury in Doha does mean, however, that there should be a spot for Thomas Muller in Freiburg -- provided Carlo Ancelotti employs the 4-2-3-1 system that revitalized the side late in 2016. Thomas "I'm not a striker" Muller is likely to tuck in behind Lewandowski with wingers Robben and Franck Ribery or Douglas Costa.
Meanwhile, Arjen Robben gave Bayern a boost by extending his contract by another year until 2018. In the process, Robben was happy enough to turn down earning six times his salary in China! Money isn't everything for the Netherlands winger, who warned against prematurely celebrating their fifth title in a row with 18 games still remaining.
"We laid down a marker against Leipzig," Robben said in a news conference on Wednesday.
"But we're only three points ahead. We can lose that lead in one game."
And Robben is right. It's normally a real fight in Freiburg -- a very compact, tight stadium with a special atmosphere under the lights. Bayern will have to be on their guard to come through unscathed.
Sport Bild reported veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso is set to call it a day at the end of the season after 18 years as a professional. And according to the German magazine, Philipp Lahm could also follow the Basque midfielder into retirement this summer. This is yet to be confirmed by the players themselves, but rest assured, if true, both legends of the game will want to depart after lifting European football's top club prize once again.
And looking further ahead, Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti already will have one eye on the tricky Champions League last-16 clash against the Arsenal next month -- almost inevitably perhaps -- as the two red-shirted sides renew a rivalry that has already dished up 10 Champions League meetings since 2000-01.
With the first leg in Munich less than four weeks away, Bayern can use the first few games back after the winter break to shake off their "ring rust" and prime themselves for putting Arsenal away ... again.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.