Bayern's Thomas Mueller, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Schalke 04 and Bayern Munich in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)

DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — No matter what happens to Bayern Munich, its German rivals just can't seem to take advantage.

Despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, despite underwhelming form, despite a squad creaking under the strain of a packed schedule, Bayern has a tighter hold on the Bundesliga trophy this January than in recent years.

Bayern has lost two of its six games this month — against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the league and second-tier Holstein Kiel in the cup — after losing just once in all competitions in the whole of 2020. Few recent wins have been convincing.

Despite that mini-slump, and admittedly without hope of repeating last season's treble following the German Cup exit, Bayern has extended its league lead to seven points over Leipzig and could be 10 clear by Saturday night.

Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund — all have briefly looked capable of ending Bayern's record run of eight consecutive titles. Dark-horse challengers Gladbach and Wolfsburg have had their moments, too. But they've all been taking points off each other, making easy games look hard and letting Bayern stroll away.

Dortmund's recent form under interim coach Edin Terzić has been generally poor, except for beating Leipzig 3-1 on Jan. 9 to stop Leipzig overtaking Bayern for the top spot. (backslash)

Leverkusen was on top of the table in mid-December, then won just one of its next six games, against Dortmund.

Meanwhile, Dortmund and Leipzig dropped points against Mainz, making a squad from the relegation zone look like the swashbuckling, giant-killing Mainz team once coached by Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and new Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.

Second-placed Leipzig and third-placed Leverkusen play each other on Saturday, with Leverkusen expected to be without midfielder Nadiem Amiri after the club revealed on Thursday he tested positive for the coronavirus. If Leverkusen comes out on top, that means Bayern would lead by 10 points with a win over struggling Hoffenheim. It won't be all plain sailing for Bayern, though.

Hoffenheim was the only team to win any competitive match against Bayern in 2020, by a stunning 4-1 in September. Results since then have been wildly inconsistent, but Hoffenheim looks on form after back-to-back 3-0 wins. Andrej Kramarić scored twice in the win over Bayern and has been outstanding recently with four goals from his last two games.

February might be the last chance for any other team to take the fight to Bayern. For Hansi Flick's team, next month means a trip to Qatar for the Club World Cup and an away Champions League last 16 game at Lazio. If Bayern can keep its Bundesliga lead for another month, the record-extending ninth title will be as good as won.


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