Things are on the up for Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery after a brutal run of injuries with the flying Frenchman hitting form at a crucial time for Pep Guardiola’s side.
The 32-year-old made only his third Bundesliga appearance of the season on Saturday when he gave Bayern fresh impetus off the bench to make all the difference in their 2-0 win at Wolfsburg.
An ankle injury kept Ribery sidelined from March to November in 2015, then he tore a thigh muscle on only his second game back last December, which kept him out until last weekend’s 3-1 win at home to Darmstadt.
With the scores goalless at the Volkswagen Arena, Ribery was excellent in Wolfsburg as he replaced Arjen Robben in the 56th minute and played a key part in both of Bayern’s second-half goals.
He set up Kingsley Coman’s goal by starting the move with a mazy run and cross, then put in a nonchalant lay-off for Robert Lewandowski to score Bayern’s second.
The win left Bayern 11 points clear at the top before Sunday’s games, as Guardiola’s team face two key matches this week in their bid to win an historic fourth consecutive German league title.
They host Mainz on Wednesday and then travel to second-placed Borussia Dortmund on Saturday and two victories would effectively hand Bayern the league title, barring a disaster.
Ribery has timed his return to perfection and gives Guardiola options from the bench.
“Franck is just on another level,” said Bayern’s sporting director Matthias Sammer, as Ribery looks to get back to his 2013 best when he helped the Bavarian giants land the Champions League, German Cup and Bundesliga treble.
His figures are staggering over his nine seasons in Munich.
He has either scored or created 170 goals in his 196 Bundesliga appearances since joining Bayern in 2007.
Despite currently not having a fit centre-back in their squad, Bayern are going strong in three competitions having drawn 2-2 at Juventus in the Champions League last 16, first leg. They are already through to the semi-finals of the German Cup.
But as the business end of the season approaches, it is the presence of experienced old heads like Ribery that Guardiola needs, even if the Frenchman needs time to rediscover his match fitness.
“It’s important for substitutes to come on and make a decisive impact and we’re lucky enough to have an excellent bench,” said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm.
“The players who come on always help us, not just Franck.
“It’s important to remember that he was injured for a very long time. He just needs more time.
“It’s hugely important for him to get back into a rhythm after such a long time on the sidelines.”
Ribery shared a long embrace with Wolfsburg’s former Bayern defender Dante before kick-off and the pair were clearly delighted to see each other again.
“I am always pleased when we see each other,” said Dante, who Ribery described as “being like a brother to me, I still miss him”.
“I am especially pleased that he’s back again and fit, because the Bundesliga needs someone like Franck Ribery.
“It’s always fun to see him play.”