Preview: FC Bayern vs. Hamburg SV

Alexander Hassenstein

The long international break is over, with Germany picking up a pair of fairly routine wins. The next international excursion won't take place until June ... which feels like a lifetime away, considering some of the things that will happen between now and then. FC Bayern will now bear down and play twice a week for pretty much every week between now and the end of May. And it starts on Saturday, in ...

Match Week 27 of the 2012-2013 1. Bundesliga season. A pretty amazing story taking shape: if my math is correct, Bayern can clinch the title with a victory over Hamburg AND a loss or draw by Dortmund (on the road at Stuttgart). We currently sit on a 20-point lead, and after this week there will by 7 weeks remaining. If we can stretch that lead to 22 or 23, then even 7 straight BVB wins and 7 straight Bayern losses wouldn't allow them to catch us. So, this is a chance to put the league title on ice in March. Incredible.

The Line-Up

We play Champions League ball this coming Tuesday, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a bit of rotation against HSV. According to the club's official site, both Gomez and Schweinsteiger are expected to resume full training today (Thursday). Mandzukic has had a few rather lifeless outings after several months of great play; any chance Gomez could be in a position to take his spot? And even if he takes his spot this weekend, does that mean the same guy will get the start on Tuesday?

Here's my guess:

Mandzukic

Shaqiri - Mueller - Robben

Martinez - Schweinsteiger

Contento - Dante - van Buyten - Lahm

Neuer

Some wild guesses thrown in there, so let me know if you disagree. Alaba played the full 90 on Tuesday (and scored a late equalizer) and then had to travel back from Ireland. I actually might have thought this would be a good chance for Starke to get some work, but after Neuer's poor mis-play in the recent Germany match, he'd probably prefer to get back out there.

The Opponent

I was going to write that Hamburg have had an up-and-down season, but that seems like a pretty useless statement that you could make about any team in the league except us and the 2 or 3 crappiest teams. But HSV started the year by getting bumped from the Pokal by Karlsruhe, then lost 3 straight to open the Bundesliga season. Since then, it's been a long slog to get back to relevance, but one they've made successfully. Check out the current 4 through 9 positions in the 1. Bundesliga:

Club Played Points GD
4. Eintracht 26 39 +2
5. Schalke 26 39 0
6. Mainz 26 38 +4
7. BMG 26 38 0
8. Hamburg 26 38 -4
9. Freiburg 26 36 0


A couple things to note: first of all, that's a pretty damn competitive upper-middle class in Germany. That chunk of table runs through a CL spot down to a mid-table spot, and you wouldn't bet on any of them to be clear favorite to rise to the top. Even the 10th and 11th teams (H96 and Nuernberg) could force themselves into the discussion. And secondly, that's a pretty good climb for HSV after their season-opening run of losses. They've also beaten Dortmund twice this year, by a combined score of 7-3, and decisively beat Schalke in their only meeting of the season thus far.

Rafa van der Vaart, returning from his English jaunt, has had flashes of great play but has also spent time on the bench with injury. The real story has been Artjoms Rudnevs, who's come out of nowhere to be one of the league's most exciting young players. The 25-year old Latvian has 11 goals and 4 assists in league play, this being his first year in the Bundesliga. And in the 3 games in which he has NOT started, Hamburg have failed to win, failed to draw, and failed to score a goal. This includes the 3-0 loss at the hands of Bayern this year, where manager Thorsten Fink brought him on only at the half, possibly trying to give him a slow roll-out vs. the league's best team. Bet we won't see that again this weekend.

Elsewhere in the Competition

The table above will show you who needs a win the most as far as teams fighting for CL and EL spots. Aside from HSV's tough trip, Freiburg vs. Monchengladbach is a huge match. And Mainz, still hanging on to hope for a CL spot, have a relatively easy match: at home vs. Werder Bremen, who haven't won in their last 5. If Mainz can't get all 3 points here, they probably have to start thinking about securing a Europa spot.

Towards the bottom, Augsburg have won 3 of their last 4 to make a lake charge at avoiding the playoff spot (helped by Fortuna D's struggles - they've won only once in their last 6). If the Clowns can get a win at home against Hannover, they're suddenly looking at a good chance to beat the drop.

Final Notes

- We have the evening match on Saturday: 6:30 PM local time. Click the following to check the time in your current zone:

Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com

- The current standings on the ongoing Champions League Bracket Challenge are up. A few changes after the most recent round of play, so click through. Thanks to Kate L, as always, for compiling.

- New reports of Suarez-to-Bayern. Maybe he's just better than I realize? I don't know, We'll worry about this after Juventus. Thanks for reading.

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