Bayern Munich went top of the Bundesliga on Saturday as a ruthless attacking display ensured they squeezed past a spirited Paderborn despite some defensive deficiencies.
Following a bright start from the hosts, Robert Lewandowski uncharacteristically passed up on the chance to score in front of an open goal, instead shanking his shot unacceptably wide.
However, his blushes were spared just nine minutes later as Serge Gnabry latched on to Philippe Coutinho's chipped pass, the Germany international finishing cooly past goalkeeper Jannik Huth from a tight angle at the back post.
Gnabry turned provider for Bayern's second. Joshua Kimmich chipped the ball to the former Arsenal youth star, who cushioned it into the path of Coutinho to prod into an empty net.
Substitute Kai Proger pulled one back for Paderborn with just over 20 minutes to go, striking sweetly on the half volley to half the deficit, but Bayern extended their lead again shortly after, this time through Lewandowski, who dinked beyond Huth.
Jamilu Collins scored an absolute rocket as Paderborn pressed late on, Manuel Neuer looking especially sluggish whilst looking through a crowd of players, but the German champions held on to go top of the Bundesliga, with former leaders RB Leipzig sensationally losing 3-1 at home to Schalke.
Starting XI: Huth (5); Drager (6), Kilian (5), Hunemeier (6), Collins (7); Souza (5), Gjasula (5), Vasiliadis (6), Antwi-Adjei (6); Zolinski (5), Michel (6).
Substitutes: Proger (7), Ritter (5), Shelton (5).
Key Talking Point
Things were tight at the top of the Bundesliga before Saturday's games. Just three points separated the top five of RB Leipzig, Bayern, Dortmund, Freiburg and Schalke, so there was plenty of pressure for Die Roten to keep up their solid form and stay with the pack.
They were sharp during the opening stages, even if Lewandowski fluffed a chance he would normally bury in his sleep, but there defensive frailties were exposed as a buoyant Paderborn took the game to the hosts in the second half.
Bayern's defence has emerged as a slight Achilles heel, despite Niklas Sule's impressive form over the past year or so, with Kovac struggling to find the right player to partner the towering German. Jerome Boateng was flakey again, and his claim for a regular starting spot is losing credibility.
With Tottenham up next, Kovac will hope his attack can continue to fire, even if his defence remains somewhat dodgy.
Starting XI: Neuer (6); Pavard (6), Sule (6), Boateng (5), Hernandez (6); Kimmich (7), Thiago (6); Gnabry (8), Coutinho (9*), Coman (7); Lewandowski (7).
Substitutes: Martinez (6), Davies (7), Muller (5).
STAR PLAYER - It's starting to look like Philippe Coutinho wasn't the problem during his time at Barcelona. The Brazilian has been brilliant since joining Bayern in the summer and again proved to be the difference maker on Saturday.
He was directly involved in two of the three goals against Paderborn, his pass offering Gnabry the relatively straightforward chance to put Bayern in front, before he tapped in at the end of a flowing move to double the away side's advantage.
We're starting to see a Coutinho reminiscent of his Anfield days, rather than the shadow that frustrated Camp Nou audiences. With him in the side, Bayern can look to kick on and entertain fans who were left unconvinced during Niko Kovac's first season in charge.
Bayern are going to make us fall in love with Coutinho and then send him back to Spain, aren’t they?— маш, короче (@navvidu) September 28, 2019
COUTINHO IS UNBELIEVABLE— Complaxes (@Complaxes) September 28, 2019