Allianz Arena, Munich - Forget Bastian Schweinsteiger - where would Bayern be without Franck Ribéry? His two goals, one in each half, gave FCB a well deserved and much needed Bundesliga victory over 4th placed Schalke 04 today.
On Wednesday evening, a somewhat irate Bayern Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had challenged the club's players to 'get themselves out of this mess.' Just two league wins in five since the end of the winter break and a shock 1-0 reverse at Basle in the Champions League had prompted Rummenigge to issue what was presented as a rallying cry to the players, but could quite easily have been construed as a warning for them to get their acts together.
But while they might have been lethargic in last week's goalless draw at Freiburg, they were on the front foot from the first whistle today and could easily have won by a far greater margin.
The first half belonged almost exclusively to the hosts. After Thomas Müller had dragged an effort wide, Schalke goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand produced a stunning double save to deny Müller and then Arjen Robben, before then pushing Ribéry's dipping shot around the post just after the half-hour mark.
But after keeping his side on level terms, Hildebrand then undid all that good work with a moment of madness. The former German international came charging out of his goal to intercept a ball over the top from David Alaba, but the twinkle-toed Ribéry beat him to it. Touching the ball past Hildebrand, Ribéry made a difficult finish look very simple and calmly slotted into the unguarded net on 36 minutes. Spurred on by their goalscorer, the Reds never looked like relinquishing their grip on the game.
The second half began as the first had ended, with yet further opportunities for Bayern to add to their lead. Within 90 seconds of the restart, Holger Badstuber came within a whisker of making it 2-0 when he flashed a header onto the bar. Schalke then had their best chance of the game. In the same move that had seen Badstuber rattle the upright, the Royal Blues broke at speed. Marco Höger's incisive pass sent his midfield partner Joel Matip through one-on-one with Manuel Neuer, but the latter's composure deserted him and he sent his shot wide of the post.
It proved to be a massive turning point. Schalke had not got near Ribéry all game, and eight minutes after Matip's miss, the Frenchman doubled the lead. After a quick counter attack and a one-two with Müller, the former Marseilles winger cut into the box on his right foot and his deflected shot flew past the helpless keeper. It was harsh on Hildebrand, who was deceived by the deflection, but in truth a second goal for the Bavarians had long been coming.
Schalke's stifling gameplan of keeping things tight at the back and frustrating the home side had worked up to a point, but once they fell two goals behind, there was no coming back for them. The visitors did manage to stem the flow of shots at goal in the second period, but lone striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar cut a frustrated figure up front, as he was starved of any type of service. Jefferson Farfan looked dangerous in patches, but Lahm and the workhorse Ribéry worked well to minimise his impact on the right-hand side.
This wasn't quite Bayern back to their best. The record German champions missed a host of chances and top scorer Mario Gomez had a desperately disappointing day. Indeed, if Schalke had played with a little more ambition going forward, FCB's profligacy might have proved costly. But this was, by a significant margin, their best performance in the Bundesliga for a long time, and a fitting answer to the critics that had gathered some momentum after the Basle defeat.