"Out of darkness comes light." So the saying goes, and at least Franck Ribery's long-awaited return from injury provided some solace to Bayern Munich after their first league defeat of the season at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach.
"Ribery! Ribery!" came the chants from Bayern's travelling faithful as the mercurial French midfielder warmed up on the touchline. He made an immediate impact in the original Klassiker, scoring within six minutes of his introduction as a substitute. The only problem was that Bayern were trailing by three goals at the time.
Ribery has had to wait 269 days to make his 300th competitive appearance for Bayern, after suffering an ankle crunch from a certain Douglas Costa against Shakhtar Donetsk in last season's Champions League. It's ironic, though less so for the diminutive Frenchman, that the Brazilian has since taken Munich by storm during Ribery's injury-enforced absence.
"I'm back and that's a good thing," the 32-year-old succinctly summed up his much-awaited return to the fray. His consolation goal, the 105th of his trophy-filled Bayern career, couldn't prevent Bayern losing for the first time ever in the Bundesliga when the Frenchman scores. The damage had already been done on a dismal day in North Rhine-Westphalia for the Bavarians.
Bayern should have coasted clear by the break. Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Javi Martinez were all guilty of frittering away gilt-edged chances, firing straight at Swiss international keeper Jan Sommer. Kingsley Coman also missed a sitter, hitting the post when it looked easier to score from close range.
And, as the old adage goes, if you don't take your chances, sooner rather than later, you'll get punished. Gladbach eventually punished Bayern's profligacy in front of goal, running rampant with three superb goals in 14 second-half minutes to overturn the Bayern bandwagon; they were the first goals Bayern had conceded in the second half of any league game this season.
As well as missed chances, this was also a tale of missing talent as an elongated injury list took its toll.
Many of the more-creative and speedier squad members were absent. Thiago, Arjen Robben, David Alaba, Douglas Costa and even Mario Gotze all missed the game through injury. All but Gotze would be among the first names on any Guardiola team sheet. Even a squad as star-studded as Bayern's cannot always afford to do without this much talent. On top of that, squandering a hatful of chances didn't help the Bavarians' cause.
"We had severe problems and lost our stability and control," manager Pep Guardiola told Sky Germany after the match.
"We're not used to falling behind," added captain Philipp Lahm. "We've thrown the game away in the space of five minutes."
Indeed, the loss of control reminded of the three-goal blackout in Barcelona, when Bayern lost the plot after falling behind to a Lionel Messi-inspired Blaugrana. With the Bavarians now only five points clear of nearest challengers Borussia Dortmund, there's also a glimmer of hope for the neutral as there may even be a title race that extends beyond April.
Bayern have two more league games remaining before the winter break: a local derby at home to minnows Ingolstadt and away at struggling Hanover. Expect Bayern to take out their frustration on two of the Bundesliga's lesser lights.
But domestic bliss can wait. First up is a very low-key trip to Zagreb with nothing to play for but the €1.5 million UEFA win bonus.
It will, however, offer some vital European experience to the likes of Joshua Kimmich and Sebastian Rode in midfield. Jan Kirchhoff, who has never started a competitive game for Bayern, may also enjoy one last hurrah before departing for pastures new next year. Even U.S. international Julian Green, banished to the reserves in the Regionalliga, has been called up to the first-team squad. Backup goalkeeper Sven Ulreich will make his Champions League debut as Manuel Neuer puts his feet up in Munich after featuring in every game this season.
In the home fixture in September, Bayern devoured Croatian champions Dinamo 5-0 and should still have enough quality to secure a narrow win in Zagreb -- even with the most experimental of sides.