No where else but on the Säbener Straße is getting 10 points out of 12 looked on with scrutiny. Maybe it is because rival Borussia Dortmund managed a perfect run so far. Maybe it is because Manager Josep "Pep" Guardiola has shaken things up a bit, much to the dislike of several FC Bayern München supporters.
The run of games so far have included two Europa League qualifiers on the road, Eintracht Frankfurt and SC Freiburg, and two mid-table teams from the 2012/13 season, Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1. FC Nürmberg. The schedule does not get any easier once Hannover 96 comes to town.
A team that is has pendulum performances year-to-year, Hannover has found a consistency unlike any part of their history. They have finished 4th, 7th, and 9th the past three years – not exactly an encouraging trajectory, but still away from a familiar relegation battle.
Currently fifth through four matches, will try and get back to the European competition they have been accustomed to challenging for. Watch the 96 closely, because this will also be a trial run for the DFB Pokal 2nd round in 10-days time.
The Match (51st Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
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Television and Streaming: Gol TV (USA & Canada), Sky Bundesliga | HD (Germany), Other Countries
Bundesliga: 31 W, 8 D, 9 L
DFB Pokal: 2 W, 0 L
Largest Victory: 7-0 (April 17, 2010, Munich, Germany)
Largest Defeat: 1-3 (September 22, 1973, Hanover, Germany; March 5, 2011, Hanover, Germany)
Most Goals: 4; Gerhard "Gerd" Müller (November 11, 1972)
FC Bayern have the appearance of a fishing boat that just docked after a thunderstorm. Some crew members may be tired from duty, others may be injured, but most importantly, everyone's alive and the boat is still floating.
There is a little relief from the plethora of injuries – Mario Götze (foot), Thiago Alcântara (ankle), Javier Martínez (adductor), Holger Badstuber (knee; and another knee surgery). Bastian Schweinsteiger (ankle) is back practicing, as is Jan Kirchhoff (adductor problems), who could add some depth when bodies are in high demand. CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is hopeful Schweinsteiger will play on Saturday [FC Bayern Website].
What injuries could do is open the door for a reserve team player to make their 2013/14 debut on the team sheet. The lack of depth in the midfield may allow someone like Mitchell Weiser or Patrick Weihrauch to at least get to watch the game from the bench instead of the bleachers. It helps that FC Bayern II have TSV 1896 Rain am Lech on their schedule, a side currently sitting on the bottom of the Regionalliga Bayern table.
Franck Ribery's glut pain that he was experiencing over the international break did not seem to slow him down for France – he scored two goals and recorded a "hockey-assist" on Samir Nasri's game winner on Tuesday. The team is reporting the Frenchman fully fit for Saturday's tilt.
Now comes the most speculated of questions whenever a team has a midweek match: who will play, and who will rest. Against SC Freiburg, Guardiola rested his cherished regulars: Ribéry, David Alaba, Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben, Jérôme Boateng, and Mario Mandzukic. That was only for the UEFA Super Cup, widely considered a glorified friendly, although Guardiola was going up against his evil twin, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea FC.
With a Tuesday Champions League group match against CSKA Moskva, it would not be a surprise to see some starters sit to prepare for the midweek clash. That being said, Guardiola may want to learn from his Freiburg faux pas, and put a stronger side against a tough opponent. A latter of the two could be the end result.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Ribéry – Kroos – Müller – Shaqiri
Alaba – Dante – van Buyten – Lahm
Bench: Starke, Contento, Boateng, Rafinha, Robben, Weiser, Pizarro
Has Hannover 96's start been a surprise, or just a good storyline? It is not like they burst on the scene, qualifying for Europe in 2010/11 and 2011/12. Their victories – over a hot 1. FC Mainz 05, a retooled FC Schalke 04, and a Gustavo-less VfL Wolfsburg – suggest that they are a legitimate team.
So what is the big stop gap for Saturday? Well, for starters, Mame Biram Diouf, tied with Szabolcs Huszti for the team lead in scoring (two goals, one assist), is not making the trip to Munich, according to multiple reports. Diouf has been the focal point in attack for 96 the past few seasons, either as a lone striker or with a partner up top. With Diouf down, Hannover Manager Mirko Slomka will most likely have to play Didier Ya Konan, a 29-year-old Ivorian, next to young stud Artur Sobiech.
That is, of course, if Slomka sticks to the 4-4-2 formation that has his club on a two-match winning streak. The first two matches saw a 4-2-3-1, with new addition Leonardo Bittencourt seeing the pitch over Sobiech. After mixed results – a 2-0 win over VfL Wolfsburg and a 3-0 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach – Sobiech got the call. With a goal against 1. FC 05, it is the Polish striker's spot to lose. Although, with Huszti still suspended for his red card against FC Schalke, Bittencourt and Sobiech could both be in the Starting XI.
With nine players starting at least three Bundesliga matches thus far,lineup will choose itself.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2):
Sobiech – Ya Konan
Prib – Andreasen – Hoffmann – Stindl
Pocognoli – Sané – Marcelo – Sakai
Bench: Miller, Ballas, Felipe, Schulz, Schmiedebach, Kadah, Schlaudraff, Bittencourt
As good as have been, they have never scored more than three goals against FC Bayern. Of the three times that Hannover have scored three goals against the Rekordmeister, only once did it happen in Munich. With Diouf out, Hannover will not have as much firepower. What they did against Mainz's defense will not happen against FC Bayern. Despite the tight schedule and the pile of injuries, the Bayern boat will stay afloat.
Projected Score: FC Bayern München 4,