Preview: FC Bayern vs. VfL Wolfsburg

Lennart Preiss

On the heels of a fourth straight emphatic win, FC Bayern has opened up a massive lead at the top of the Bundesliga table. But we go on the road to face a Wolfsburg side that has picked up a few credible wins of their own in recent weeks. Bayern wraps up the first portion of the second half in ...

Match Week 22 of the 2012-2013 Bundesliga season. This is the last match before we tangle with Arsenal in Champions League, so I could see a bit of rotation, but a decisive win with our regulars (whoever that means) would put us in a good mind-set for next week.

The Line-Up

Javi Martinez is out with a toe problem, though it's still hopeful that he'll be ready for Arsenal. This leads to the likelihood that Gustavo and Bastian will line up in the double pivot. As far as the back line, Daniel van Buyten will almost surely start at CB this coming Tuesday ... so, better to give him some work tomorrow, or let him rest? Hmmm ... here's my guess:

Mandzukic

Mueller - Kroos - Robben

Gustavo - Schweinsteiger

Alaba - Dante - van Buyten - Lahm

Neuer

As you can see, mostly the standard XI with a bit of rotation (Ribery getting a rest). No particular reason, just a guess. Aside from that, I imagine Bayern will start most of the regulars but then maybe take the chance to sit them in the second half.

The Opponent

The Wolves have settled in as a mid-table side since they won the league title in 2008-2009. That year, they relied on the strike duo of Grafite and Eden Dzeko, both of whom topped 30 goals. Since then, VfL has struggled to consistently generate offense; last 2 seasons, they managed only 43 and 47 league goals total, and this year they've scored only 22 through 21 games.

In their past few matches, though, Wolfsburg has started to put a few things together: 10 points from their most recent 6 matches, including wins over Dortmund and VfB. The Wolves were probably counting on former Bayern star Ivica Olic (who came over this past summer in a not-quite-swap for Mandzukic) to contribute a lot, but it's been the square-jawed Dutchman Bas Dost who has led the way for most of the year. Dost has 11 goals in combined league and Pokal play, including the match winner in the afore-mentioned victory over Dortmund. And, of course, VfL is still relying on midfielder Diego, who somehow outlasted Felix Magath and has 7 goals and 7 assists of his own this year.

Also, keep an eye on Adelino André Vieira Freitas (I think his kit might just say "Vieira," which is a pretty common name to be claiming for his own). The Portuguese winger has taken 28 shots this year in 19 appearances, but put only 8 on target and hasn't found the net yet.

Elsewhere in the Competition

Bayern has quite a strangle-hold on the top spot, but there are interesting battles taking place elsewhere in the Bundesliga. 2d-place BVB faces 4th-place Eintracht Frankfurt in a rematch of the six-goal September thriller that saw Frankfurt fight back from a deficit to earn a draw. Eintracht has taken 7 points from their last 3 matches, and if they can earn even a draw tomorrow, then a Champions League spot appears to be a real possibility.

Several teams are desperately chasing them for that last CL spot. You guys know that I've been hoping Mainz can at least make an attempt on that spot; they face Schalke at home on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how S04 reacts to last week's hammering. It could either be "we hit rock bottom on that day, now we fight our way back up," or "we hit a rock on our way down the mountain, got knocked unconscious, and continued to fall."

At the other end of the table, the bottom 3 face a huge gap to get up into the safe spots, but the battle for 16th (which means at least a chance to stay up in the playoff) could be interesting: Augsburg trails TSG Hoffenheim by a single point, but Hoffenheim have a chance to get a win this weekend against sorry VfB Stuttgart (who have lost 5 straight league matches and will be playing on short rest with a Europa match today).

Final Notes

- We kick off tomorrow at 8:30 local time. Click on the graphic below and it will give you the time in your current area:

Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com

- Mario Mandzukic promises he'll show no mercy against his old club (though it will be interesting to see if any of VfL's defenders know how to bottle him up, after facing him so often in practice).

- As we speak, Hannover is leading on the road against Anzi Makhachkala in the Europa League through a Huszti goal. Did anyone take my advice on 60-to-1 odds for H96 to win the competition? If that happens and you clean up, you owe me a beer.

- We've won our last trio of matches 2-0, 3-0 and 4-0. Could a 5-0 beating be in the works? Maybe, but I'd rather get up by 1 or 2 and then bring in the reserves - this coming Tuesday is the bigger prize. Thanks for reading.

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