Match Week 14 of the 2012-2013 Bundesliga season. Bayern has a solid lead halfway through the tough late-fall run ... pretty much right where we found ourselves last season. A huge match vs. Borussia Dortmund looms this weekend, but dropping points ahead of that battle would be painful. Jupp Heynckes will try to juggle the need to win on the road with the need to rotate players in the thick of a tough stretch of matches.
Alright, here's our customary run through possible absentees. As always, write in and let us know if we left anything out ...
- Jerome Boateng was expected to be out until the end of November. But, he was dressed and on the bench this past weekend (though he didn't play). I think he'd be available if we needed him.
- Mario Gomez is obviously back - he had a goal within his first 30 second on the pitch, and looks fully recovered.
- Gustavo and Emre Can are coming off surgery, and both probably out until at least January.
- Arjen Robben is "hopeful" for Dortmund, but he hasn't done a full practice yet, so it's unclear if he'd really be ready by Wednesday.
- Bastian Schweinsteiger is one yellow away from an automatic suspension, so it might be a good idea to hold him our vs. Freiburg.
So, here's my estimation - keep in mind this isn't necessarily our best XI. With another big match on tap, we'd need to let a few guess rest:
Ribery - Kroos - Shaqiri
Tymoschuk - Martinez
Alaba - Badstuber - van Buyten - Rafinha
Gomez looked good enough to start vs. BVB, so let's pencil in Mandzu for the midweek match. Bastian needs to dodge another yellow, and anyway he could use a break. Dante and Lahm have both been playing great, but haven't head a rest in a while (Lahm especially has been running himself ragged). So, a majority of our normal starters, but with some capable back-ups in the mix.
I discussed this a bit this past summer - Freiburg went into last season's winter break in dead last, and having basically one good player, Papis Demba Cisse`. Then, when the winter transfer period rolled around, they sold him. Freiburg was not only a good bet for relegation at this point, it was a virtual certainty. But they also had an ace up their sleeve: new manager Christian Streich. Appointed over the winter break, Streich guided the Freis to a second half that saw them climb six places and beat Leverkusen, Schalke, and Hamburg (and hold Bayern to a scoreless draw in one of the most boring matches I've ever seen).
This season, Freiburg has been solid again, outside of a slight late-September stumble that saw them lose 2 straight. But they're in good form now, with no defeats in their last 5 (which includes a Pokal win that advanced them to whatever round we're in now). They have a relatively balanced attack, with 12 guys scoring at least one goal, 6 guys scoring multiple goals, but nobody scoring more than 5 (these numbers span both league and Pokal play). But despite the balance, I feel pretty confident in naming Max Kruse, the skinny midfielder, as their man to watch. He has 4 assists and 5 goals this year, including a late goal to kill off the match last week in the Baden-Wurttemberg derby.
Another interesting angle is that most of the SC Freiburg players really, really love to shot, even when the situation might not demand it. The Freis currently have 4 guys with over 20 shots taken (Kruse, Dan Caliguiri, Jonathan Schmid, and Julian Schuster), and none have turned even close to half of those attempts into shots on goal. Schuster, the holding middie, is possibly the worst: 22 shots taken, 6 shots on target, 1 goal. I don't know the tactical response would be, but I'm sure Heynckes is stressing it this week.
Elsewhere in the Competition
Looks like we're back to a 2-team race, unless Schalke can turn things around. Dortmund are now our closest pursuers, and they're heavily favored today at home vs. Fortuna D. Werder B vs. Leverkusen could also be interesting (7th place vs. 5th), and S04 travels to Hamburg in a road trip that's never easy.
- We kick off at 6 PM local time tomorrow, and it's carried live on Gol! TV. Check below for the time in your current zone. ** KEEP IN MIND ** that this is NOT the same time as the usual midweek (Champions League) start. If you're waiting until 2:45, you'll miss the first half:
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
- Our tech guys are rolling out new updates and fixes to the MOBILE versions of this site in the next couple weeks. I don't know exactly if every problem is going to be fixed, but they took feedback and complaints seriously. Before Christmas, the site should be loading faster and all features should be optimized on your handheld or tablet. If we get to mid-December or so and you still can't access all features, let me know.
- Freiburg was the first match preview I ever did, a few days after I first took over the old site. Feels like a lot longer than 20 months ago, no?
Thanks for reading.