Robert Lewandowski has set his Bayern Munich teammates the challenge of winning their five remaining games before the winter break to relaunch their Bundesliga title challenge.
After winning the league for the last six seasons, fifth-placed Bayern find themselves in the unusual position of hanging on to the coattails of the chasing pack, five points behind second-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach and nine adrift of leaders Borussia Dortmund.
There are still 15 points to be won before the Bundesliga takes its annual break for the festive period, however, and Lewandowski wants Bayern to end 2018 at a gallop to charge back into the thick of the title race.
‘Anything can happen’
“We have to try and win all our Bundesliga games, and then we’ll see how the table looks. Even though we’re not in a good position, we can’t allow ourselves to think that it’s all over. During the winter break, we can talk over what is possible and see how many points we are behind. Anything can happen in the Rückrunde,” said the Poland international, who refuses to think of what might be at the season’s end in May.
“We mustn’t think about that, but think first about our games. If we win the last five matches before the winter break, something good can happen.”
Bayern’s teething troubles on the domestic scene have contrasted sharply with their imperious form in continental competition.
Lewandowski found the net twice in the 5-1 demolition of Benfica that sent Niko Kovac’s men into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League with a group game to spare on Tuesday; a performance the Bayern forward says should now be the squad’s benchmark.
“It was an important game for our heads and our self-confidence. I hope that we’ll keep doing that, but it was just one game,” he explained after helping Bayern secure one of the top two spots in Group E.
“Apart from the first five minutes of the second half, we played really well and had everything under control. But we know that every challenge, every situation is important and we have to give 100 per cent in everything we do.”
He added: “We know what we have done wrong. Each of us has to look at ourselves, see what mistakes have been made. It’s down to us. We also must look at what we haven’t done perfectly up to now and show the football we can play in the Bundesliga.”
Bundesliga a different animal
The quintet of matches between now and Christmas feature a taxing home encounter with RB Leipzig as well as potentially perilous trips, including the upcoming journey to Werder Bremen and the Matchday 17 test against free-scoring Eintracht Frankfurt.
Lewandowski warned Bayern fans not to expect the squad to be able to easily transfer their impressive European form to their domestic games where opponents revel in the underdog role against the record Bundesliga champions.
“You can’t compare the Bundesliga with the Champions League,” said the 30-year-old forward, who has scored seven goals in 11 league matches this season and six in just five European fixtures.
“In the Bundesliga, a lot of teams sit deep and keep things tight. That means you have less space. In the Bundesliga, you have to keep the ball and calmly try to find the gaps and keep a lid on counter-attacks. We also have to play well defensively, that can still be improved.”