BERLIN (Reuters) - Bayern Munich are firmly back on track to defend their Bundesliga crown and interim coach Hansi Flick could be rewarded with a longer deal but the absence of Robert Lewandowski is proving to be a problem.
With Hoffenheim awaiting on Saturday, Bayern are top of the table on 49 points, one ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig, having won eight of their nine previous league games.
Buoyed by their 3-0 Champions League round of 16 first-leg win at Chelsea, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hinted a new deal could be in the works for Flick, after presenting him with a pen as a birthday gift following the victory in London.
"For those who do not know what is in that little red box, it is a pen," Rummenigge told a post-game dinner with Flick and his players as well as supporters.
"With pens one occasionally signs documents at FC Bayern Munich," he said with a grin and to the delight of the audience.
"Keep doing what you do and keep doing it well. Stay as you are. We are very, very satisfied with the way the team plays and the results," he told Flick.
The 55-year-old Flick took over in November, replacing Nico Kovac, and after initial wobbles looks to have rediscovered Bayern's domestic dominance.
His team will face a major challenge, however, starting against Hoffenheim on Saturday, with top scorer Lewandowski sidelined for at least four weeks with a knee injury.
Lewandowski has been enjoying his best season and has scored 25 league goals in 23 league games, many of which kept Bayern in the title race.
Hoffenheim are the team with more points than any other Bundesliga side against Bayern since 2016 and they will try to add to their 10 since then to maintain their aspirations for a European spot.
Leipzig have an equally solid record against their opponents -- visitors Bayer Leverkusen -- having won four and lost just once in their seven league encounters.
On average Leipzig score more than two goals against Leverkusen.
Borussia Dortmund, in third on 45, will be waiting for any slip-ups by the top two. The Ruhr valley club take on Freiburg hoping to continue their goal run at home with at least three scored in each of the last three matches.
Dortmund have netted a club record 65 goals this season.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)