Bayern Munich 5-2 Hertha Berlin: Five-Star Bayern Move Third

Bayern's attack was rampant today, and after today's win, the men from Munich are just two points behind leaders Leverkusen.

For the first time since late November, Bayern coach Louis van Gaal changed his lineup. Following Mark van Bommel's suspension, the Dutch tactician opted to grant Arjen Robben his first start since returning from injury, and Bastian Schweinsteiger deputized as holding midfielder in a 4-3-3 setup.

Hertha coach Friedhelm Funkel opted to retain the shape of the 4-4-1-1 lineup that earned a 2-2 draw with Leverkusen last weekend, but suspended playmaker Gojko Kacar was replaced by Cicero.

From the opening kickoff, Bayern brimmed with confidence on an icy pitch. As one would expect, Hertha dropped deep, content to hold onto the point granted at the opening kickoff.

It took eight minutes for Bayern to carve out their first opportunity, but Mario Gomez nodded over the bar. Three minutes later, the German international smacked his second shot on goal, but Jaroslav Drobny was able to parry the shot wide.

Despite their dominance of possession and occasional chances on goal, Bayern overall looked hardly better than Hertha in the opening quarter hour. The cold weather obviously had its effect on both teams, and the early passing was anything but penetrative.

However, as is often the case with in-form teams, playing beautifully is not a prerequisite for wining. In the 16th minute, Holger Badstuber played a corner kick towards the near post and Daniel van Buyten rose to strike home with a glancing header.

Despite having taken the lead, Bayern continued to be anything but convincing of their ability to attack well. Things took a definite change on the half hour mark, however. After some fine lead-up play, it seemed like a matter of time before the home side doubled their lead, and surely enough it came in the 31st minute. Philipp Lahm, who had been freely moving up the right flank, created space and crossed towards Mario Gomez, who volleyed in a fine effort from seven yards.

Although their forward motion was very limited, the visitors were not without opportunities of their own. Shortly after the restart, Bayern conceded possession deep in their own half and even Hertha's attackers were surprised by their fortunes. The ball fell to Maximilian Nicu's feet, but the Romanian midfielder mis-hit and scuffed his shot wide of the right post.

Bayern's response was immediate and clinical. Seconds after Nicu's missed chance, Gomez beat Steve von Bergen to the byline and sent in a low cross that Drobny could only parry. Robben was first to the ball and struck home from close range.

By the time the score was 3-0, Bayern were in full gear and showed no signs of letting up. The only side effect was that the back line was, quite literally, left in the cold, and susceptible to errors. Hertha came close to pulling a goal back in the 39th minute as Martin Demichelis conceded possession to Raffael on the right byline, and the Brazilian crossed for Nicu, who again botched his shot, striking it wide.

As the half approached, Bayern's cutting edge fell off somewhat, but Ivica Olic nearly struck home the goal of the week as he flicked Robben's cross goalward, but Drobny was well-positioned to make the save.

After the half, the two teams took the pitch unchanged, in the midst of quite a snowfall.

As in the first half, Bayern came out in sharp form, and Gomez had his first chance just three minutes into the half. Olic won possession in his attacking half and passed forward to Gomez, but Bayern's leading scorer came just a hair too close to Drobny, who was just able to prevent goal number four.

After a somewhat lacklustre spell, Hertha again had a good chance to pull one back as Raffael blasted a shot on goal that Butt did well to parry. Lukasz Piszczek beat Badstuber to the ball and struck his shot well, but off the outside of the right post.

Just as before, Bayern responded to a missed Hertha opportunity by producing yet another fine goal. This time, Robben mesmerized the Hertha defense with an inward run from the right side. He slipped a through ball to Thomas Mueller, who did very well to control before striking past Drobny.

Bayern were still not done. Two minutes later, Van Buyten struck in another glancing header from a Badstuber corner, but the referee whistled for a foul on Demichelis and the goal was waved off.

Another two minutes, and Bayern had yet another chance to make it 5-0, as Bastian Schweinsteiger's free kick careened off the right post.

Still not content, and two minutes after Schweinsteiger's effort, Gomez first-timed a Lahm cross and was only denied by a great save from Drobny.

Yet, in spite of all of Bayern's efforts, Hertha were next to score. Demichelis seemed to fall asleep as he tried to take a routine long ball on the right side, and Adrian Ramos pounced to win possession. The in-form Colombian raced into the box, across the face of goal, and finished after passing goalkeeper Hans-Joerg Butt.

Not to be outdone, Bayern were incensed by the Ramos goal and continued their offensive pressure as they searched for a fifth goal. That goal took six more minutes to create, but came with an exclamation mark. A loose ball reached Gomez, who saw Olic making a diagonal run, and hit the Croatian international in stride. Olic thumped his strike past Drobny to collect a well-earned goal.

The game appeared to die down over the last 13 minutes, but ended with a silver lining for the visitors. Just 45 seconds before the final whistle, Arne Friedrich delivered a perfect cross towards Raffael, and the Brazilian rose to nod in from close range.

Immediately after the restart, the referee blew his whistle, and Bayern ended the first half of the season in third place. Hertha, who have now conceded 39 goals in 17 matches, remain dead last.

Clark Whitney,