Guardiola on track for title in record time
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola is set to scoop his first German title in record time later this month after the Bundesliga holders opened a 20-point lead on Saturday.
Arjen Robben hit a hat-trick as Bayern romped to a 5-1 home win over Schalke 04 to equal their own league record of 15 straight wins and extend their record unbeaten run to 48 Bundesliga matches.
Having dropped just four points all season, his side have now claimed 65 points after 23 games -- setting another league record.
Bayern won last season's treble of league, cup and Champions League titles.
They had wrapped up the Bundesliga with a record six games to spare and Guardiola's side is on course to at least equal that.
Having won 14 titles in four years as Barcelona coach before standing down in 2012, Guardiola could have his first Bundesliga title confirmed by the end of March in his first season in charge.
"In the break, we talked about respect for the opponent and about how we needed to keep serious," said Guardiola, ever the perfectionist as his side led 4-0 at half-time at Munich's Allianz Arena.
"Congratulations to the team. With every game we move a little closer to defending the league title," he added with 11 league games left.
Guardiola has already won two titles at Munich having scooped the UEFA Super Cup by beating Chelsea in Prague last August, then lifting the Club World Cup in Morocco in December.
On Friday, Guardiola flippantly told reporters "don't ask me about the title!" in broken German, but Bayern will wrap up their 24th German league title when they host Hoffenheim at home on March 29 if they maintain their massive lead.
Germany winger Thomas Mueller was the first from the Bayern camp to admit the title race is over, telling Munich newspaper TZ: "I don't think anyone is reckoning that we will lose six of our last remaining matches".
Bayern were never troubled by Schalke, who lost 6-1 at home to Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid on Wednesday in the Champions League, and were 4-0 down inside half an hour on Saturday.
With three minutes gone, left-back David Alaba netted a free-kick, then Robben scored either side of Mario Mandzukic's header from a superb Alaba cross.
Schalke were gifted a goal when Jefferson Farfan's corner was turned into his own net by Munich right-back Rafinha, in for captain Philipp Lahm, with 25 minutes left -- it was only the tenth goal Bayern have conceded all season.
To compound Schalke's misery, Greece centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos was shown a straight red for bringing down Mandzukic in the area.
His foul allowed Robben to wrap up his hat-trick with a 77th-minute penalty.
"My son will enjoy having the match ball, my kids are my biggest fans," said Dutch winger and father of three Robben.
"We play with so much aggression and tempo, we really put our foot down.
"The title is getting every closer, we played with so much passion, which we need for the big games, especially in the Champions League."
Schalke were left to rue what coach Jens Keller refered to as a "catastrophic performance.
"We still had the Real defeat in our system", while captain Benedikt Hoewedes was again left to apologise to the Royal Blues' fans.
"You can't get much worse than that," fumed Hoewedes, who had a miserable 26th birthday.
"That was highly embarrassing and we need to apologise to our fans. We gave Bayern too much respect."