Preview: FC Bayern vs. Schalke 04 (+ Important Programming Notes)

DOHA, QATAR - JANUARY 08: Benedikt Hoewedes, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Christoph Metzelder and Ciprian Marica (L-R) run during a training session of Schalke 04 at the ASPIRE Academy for Sports Excellence on January 8, 2012 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

[If you're too busy to read the whole thing, go right to the end, which is where a moderately important item will appear.]

In Match Week 4 of the 2012-2013 1. Bundesliga season. Bayern is attempting to maintain a perfect record across all competitions that began over a month ago with a win in the DFP Super-Pokal. But we started off last season hot, too, and it only took a pair of bad results to start a down streak. So every match remains important.

The Line-Up

Our pair of missing LBs, David Alaba and Diego Contento, are moving towards fitness. In fact, Contento could possibly play if it was a vital situation, though he almost certainly won't with our re-calibrated back line doing a pretty decent job. Rafinha is back, so he could maybe get some action, although either he or Lahm would have to move to LB.

According to the club's official site, Franck Ribery is also a question mark. He could probably play if we needed him; again, though, with enhanced depth at the wing positions and midweek play for a few weeks in a row, I'd bet he gets rest. Gomez is still out, Pizarro and Mandzukic each played on Wednesday (with Pizarro getting the start). Here's my guess at a line-up - as always, this is my prediction, not necessarily the way I'd do it if I were in charge.

Mandzukic

Shaqiri - Kroos - Robben

Gustavo - Schweinsteiger

Badstuber - Dante - Boateng - Lahm

Neuer

With Müller and Javi Martinez getting action from the bench, possibly as early as halftime. Both of those two are so talented that it feels weird to bring them off the bench. Nonetheless, everyone in that ^ above line-up has been playing well, and Gustavo brings some tackling heft and toughness for a road game against a team with a few good weapons.

I'm tempted to put Rafinha in there, but I can't discern who would be playing LB. But it wouldn't shock me to see him get some minutes.

The Opponent

Die Blau und Scheiss were the surprise winners of our "Favorite Non-Bayern German Team" poll last week; either there are a lot of Bayern fans who think Schalke is at least sort of cool, or we have a few Schalke fans who hang around here just for general German football news. Anyway, S04 currently sits in a tie for 3rd place in the table, with the only blemish on their record a 2-2 draw at Hannover (and that's by no means a bad result). They have won 3 straight overall, most recently going on the road to pick up a 2-1 victory in their Champions League opener.

Hardly any weak spots here, as Huntelaar paces the offense, Jefferson Farfan and Julian Draxler control the midfield, and Benedikt Höwedes and Christian Fuchs anchor the defense. Actually, their whole defense is solid, as Matip and even Papadopolous are also good man-markers who can tackle and clear the ball competently.

Last season, Schalke was much better at home, especially defensively. It's common for teams to concede more often on the road, but last year they allowed only 14 home goals against 30 away. I probably only watched 3 or 4 Schalke matches last year, so I can't tell whether they're just much, much better at home, or whether they try to be more aggressive on the road and end up getting undressed. Either way, though, Bayern can't expect to score easily, and we might need to amp up the two parts of our game that have looked weak under Jupp Heynckes: counter-attacking and set pieces.

Lastly, Schalke has two newcomers that will probably play (and may start): Ibie Afellay and Tranquillo Barnetta. Afellay's stock went down this summer with an underwhelming performance at Euro 2012, but he still has the ball skills to make himself dangerous ... especially if he's matched up against Rafinha, which is a distinct possibility.

Elsewhere in the Competition

Just some quick-hitters:

- Dortmund travels to lowly Hamburg in a match where they're heavily favored to come away with all 3 points.

- Eintracht Frankfurt puts their perfect record on the line in less than 2 hours.

- Leverkusen hosts BMG in a fairly interesting Sunday morning game.

Final Notes

- The Match kicks off at 3:30 PM local (Gelsenkirchen) time, 9:30 AM Eastern on Saturday morning. It will be carried live on Gol! TV. I'll come back and put the time-widget below in a bit.

Convert time zones with worldtimebuddy.com

- I just googled Rafinha because I'd sort of forgotten what he looks like. I was reminded that (1) he used to play for Schalke himself, and (2) he used to have some righteously cool corn-rows that he totally needs to bring back.

- Finally, sometime soon, this web-site, along with all others in the SB Nation family, will be getting a major face-lift and upgrade. It won't mean anything as far as content - I'll still be here, your names and passwords will still work, the URL and twitter handle will be the same. But it will mean faster load times, more click-through links to useful information, and (hopefully) a better look.

This won't happen in the next few days, but probably sometime soon after that. If you click on this site and see a different pattern / color-scheme / interface, don't freak out. It will feel weird for a day or two, but I'm confident it will be a much better result overall. Thanks for reading.

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