Preview: FC Bayern vs. Schalke 04

Alexander Hassenstein

After a mid-week international break, Die Roten are back in action in Saturday's late match. When we took a broad look at the second half of the season, we identified the first section as a 5-match stretch in January and February (all Bundesliga matches) where Bayern would be looking to increase or maintain the lead atop the table. So far, the club has won the first 3 decisively, while not yet allowing a goal. We look to keep the run going in ...

Match Week 21 of the 2012-2013 season. International duty, player dissatisfaction with match time, worldwide match-fixing scandals and crazy transfer rumors have been floating around all week. It's almost enough to make you forget we have a match coming up against a team that - whatever their recent struggles may be - can still put a hurt on anyone who takes them lightly.

The Line-Up

Same story as last week - manager Jupp Heynckes is trying to tune out calls for rotation, with a group of stars (including Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben, and Jerome Boateng) having been spending most of their time on the bench. Jupp has said he's not going to be bullied into making changes, telling reporters this week:

"For a player not to be happy when they are not playing is quite normal, but that is the case with five or six players. This is just the way things are at the moment."

So, that makes my following line-up guess an even bigger stretch:

Gomez

Ribery - Kroos - Mueller

Gustavo - Martinez

Alaba - Dante - Boateng - Lahm

Neuer

As you can see, I think he's head-faking the determination to name an unchanged side, and then tomorrow morning he'll name Gomez, Gustavo and Boateng to the starting XI. Even though van Buyten and Mandzu have been playing very well, it never hurts to rotate the troops a bit. As always, this is just my guess - we could see the same starters from the past couple weeks, or we could see even more aggressive rotation, with Robben or Tymoschuk getting a look (though that's doubtful against S04).

The Opponent

What the hell happened to these guys? When we last played Scahlke (back in September), we came away with a win, but they were still thought to be one of the toughest and deepest sides in the Bundesliga, and possibly our closest chasers this year. After that match, they ran off 8 straight unbeaten, a run which included wins over Dortmund in the Bundesliga and Arsenal in the Champions League.

And then came November. Starting with their last-gasp defeat at the hands of Hoffenheim, Die Blau und Scheiss have gone on a run of poor play and bad luck that has lasted over 3 months. In that period, they have:

- Played all of the Bundesliga's bottom 3 clubs, and taken one point total from the trio

- Gotten knocked out of the Pokal by Mainz

- Sold Lewis Holtby, an exciting young player, to Spurs

- Fired their manager, Huub Stevens

- Gone on a 7-match winless streak that included 3 separate 3-1 losses to medium-or-worse teams

- Gone from having one of the better defenses around to giving up 20 goals over the course of a 10 match run across all competitions. The run included only one clean sheet - a 0-0 draw vs. the Clowns.

Seriously, I could do this all day. But the bottom line is, they have been stinkin' it up. Tomorrow, they'll be without KJH (eye infection) and Christian Fuchs (suspended - accumulated yellows).

You never know, though. They still have talent, with Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan, and Neustaedter. New signing Michel Bastos, who scored in his Schalke debut last week, gives them an added dimension. And of course their defense, though shaky lately, won't make it easy with Hoewedes, who knows Bayern's forwards pretty well. I wouldn't be shocked to see a close, hard-fought match (though I still think Bayern, in our current for, will be hard to beat).

Elsewhere in the Competition

After Dortmund's win last week, they have a good grip on that 2d-place spot, and are probably the only side that has any chance of catching us this year. They're at home to take on Hamburg, who are themselves coming off a discouraging 2-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt. Some interesting goings-on in the lower reaches of the table, too: BMG are currently clinging to the last Europa spots, despite a loss last week. The Foals host Leverkusen, then have a mid-week date with Lazio (unfortunately, Miro Klose is out with a ligament injury). Freiburg, in pursuit of that last European spot, will battle Fortuna D, while Hannover takes on TSG Hoffenheim.

The battle for survival isn't shaping up to be much of a battle at all, as TSG, Augsburg and SpVgg are all well adrift of 15th placed Wolfburg. If any of those 3 want to survive, they need points in a hurry. They're facing Hannover, Mainz, and VfL, repsectively.

Final Notes

- Kick-off will be at 6:30 PM Munich time tomorrow, in the last match of the day. The time in your current zone can be seen by clicking below:

Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com

- Der Spiegel is now on the Lewandowski-to-Bayern train. I remain doubtful, but I guess anything's possible.

- According to the Daily Mail, Bastian's ankle problem is serious.

I guess that's all for now. See you tomorrow morning/afternoon/evening, depending on where you are. Thanks for reading.

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