A common saying by members of the Bayern hierarchy is 'the winners are crowned in May.' Well, Kalle Rummenigge, Matthias Sammer and Co might just have to stop uttering those words on Saturday after 90 minutes of football in Frankfurt. Victory is extremely close. Only two points are required to secure the Bundesliga title. However, the opposition is not a team which can be rolled over easily.
Overview of the Opponent
Under the calm presence of Armin Veh (and not the Bundesliga's favorite philosopher Christoph Daum), Eintracht has found the key to success this season. The 'surprise factor' which Die Adler brought along from the second division, much like TSG Hoffenheim a few seasons ago, was sufficient enough to defeat many a side this season. Eintracht's play is possession based; they have had 54 percent possession on average this season. The stats suggest this team is more focused when it is attacking than when it is defending. Frankfurt has scored 42 goals this season, 27 of which have come in open play.
The vultures (no pun intended) of the football world have already started eying Frankfurt's talents. Amongst those talents is midfielder Sebastian Rode. Rode funnily enough first made his name in a match against Bayern. In the 2010-11 season, Bayern was struggling to hold on to fourth place. Louis Van Gaal had already been fired when Bayern took on Frankfurt. That game was Andries Jonker's second game in charge. After thrashing Leverkusen 5-1, Bayern traveled to Frankfurt. They were unable to break the deadlock; it was a surprising but rather fierce strike from Rode himself which opened the scoring in the 54th minute. A late Mario Gomez penalty secured a point for the Bavarians.
Coming back to the current Eintracht side, much has been made about the brilliance of Sebastian Jung and Sebastian Rode in the press. Alex Meier's coming of age (despite being 30) was also an oft discussed topic. Kevin Trapp, the very good goalkeeper, was also mentioned from time to time. The heartbeat of the team however is seemingly Pirmin Schwegler. Schwegler is currently the captain; he is basically the Schweinsteiger of Frankfurt (event though the roles are not exactly the same all the time). What many of you might not know is Schwegler is the younger brother of a three time Bundesliga winner Chrisitan Schwegler (okay, I am talking about the Austrian Bundesliga).
Recent Fortunes of Frankfurt
Veh's side's fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2013 when most teams found their weaknesses. Eintracht went without a win for long stretches until they beat Greuther Fürth in a strange game, 2-3, last weekend. Takashi Inui was one of the scorers. Inui started the season brilliantly but faded in the second half. Srdjan Lakic was subbed off in that match. Lakic of course scored a brilliant goal against Bayern in his Kaiserslautern days in the 2010-11 season in a 2-0 victory.
Veh and his Stuttgart players seemingly accidentally encountered a formula for success on the training ground; that formula of course led Stuttgart to the title in 2007. Veh couldn't lead Frankfurt that far but has led them to a successful fifth place in the table. Considering how listless Frankfurt has looked this year, including in a 3-0 defeat to Dortmund where BVB played the majority of the match with ten men, they are slightly lucky to be in that position.
Now, its time to focus on our very own FC Bayern. Firstly, the international break was seemingly what Bayern needed. During the games before the break, Bayern seemed worn out in matches against Hoffenheim, Arsenal and Leverkusen. The defense had lapses it used to have in Louis Van Gaal's days against Fortuna Düsseldorf. Following the break, Bayern has destroyed HSV and beaten a respect worthy opponent in Juventus. The win over the Italians showcased the strength in defence (and the profligacy in attack).
Juve's best spell came just after David Alaba's goal. Bayern could not take the ball off them for a while. While many (including me) feel that Toni Kroos' injury was a blessing in disguise as Arjen Robben changed the flow in Bayern's favor, it is worth noting that Kroos marked Andrea Pirlo extremely tightly in those initial minutes. A piece on the Guardian noted how Toni is the play maker of the future today.
As far as the injury news is concerned, Holger Badstuber and Toni Kroos are out for Bayern. Kroos' absence could hurt Bayern in the long term. However, this is a chance for Arjen Robben to continue redeeming himself as well as for Xherdan Shaqiri to stake a claim in the first team. Any questions about the starting forward was eliminated on Tuesday by Mario Mandzukic. He will perhaps be rested this weekend ahead of the crunch second leg next week.
In the reverse fixture, Bayern won 2-0 in a hard fought match. Franck Ribery broke the deadlock in the first half. Bastian Schweinsteiger was fouled in the penalty area (or rather, dived) and earned a penalty. David Alaba converted it for 2-0.
Bayern will be playing with very little rest in the next few weeks. After this match, they face Juve in midweek, Nürnberg in the weekend and Wolfsburg next week in the Pokal semifinals. Just before looking at a possible lineup, if Bayern is crowned this weekend, the occasion will be a really special one for homeboy Philipp Lahm. Lahm was a Bayern ball boy as a kid; ever since earning the captaincy, he has suffered various heartbreaks. This would be his first Bundesliga title as captain and his second title overall (the first was the Supercup) if his side was to win it.
Four Frankfurt players will have to be cautious this weekend. Jung, Inui, Carlos Zambrano and Alex Meier are all a single yellow card away from suspension. A yellow for Zambrano would funnily enough earn him a second suspension as it would be his tenth. Javi Martinez was suspended for Bayern in midweek against Juventus. He will be back in the squad for this one.
Philipp Lahm- Dante- Jerome Boateng- David Alaba
Luiz Gustavo- Javier Martinez
Xherdan Shaqiri- Claudio Pizarro- Franck Ribery
Jupp Heynckes, please show dear Mario some love! He did score numerous goals last season!
Finally, as Phil Pierson would say, thanks for reading!
***Update: Alex Meier, Kevin Trapp and Schwegler are reportedly out of this one due to injuries. This is definitely a big blow to Frankfurt.