Now comes the victory laps.
The Bundesliga becomes a training ground for Pep Guardiola, managing the fitness of his players while pushing the limits of his squad. Having clinched its 24th title on Tuesday, Bayern München now can focus solely on the knockout competitions.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim might have been a team to overlook before, but its recent form would suggest otherwise. The club has survived a tough stretch against the Bundesliga's best clubs relatively unscathed, and still has an outside shot to get a European spot by season's end.
The team that Bayern will field will not be daunting, which will make the task of keeping the winning streak going more difficult.
The Match (12th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: Christian Dingert
FC Bayern: 4 W, 0 D, 0 L – 7 YC
Assistants: Sascha Stegemann, Frederick Assmuth
Fourth Official: Thorsten Schriever
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Television and Streaming
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FC Bayern: WWWDW
Hoffenheim (1-2) FC Bayern
Hoffenheim: Niklas Süle (34')
FC Bayern: Mario Mandžukić (39'), Thomas Müller (75')
Bundesliga: 8 W, 3 D, 0 L
1. Mario Gómez, FCB – 5
2. Franck Ribéry, FCB; , FCB – 4
4. Thomas Müller, FCB – 3
5. Vedad Ibisevic, HOF; Luca Toni, FCB – 2
Biggest Victory: 7-1 (March 10, 2012, Munich, Germany)
To get the obvious out of the way, Guardiola is more concerned about the midweek trip to Manchester than he is about an existential fixture against Hoffenheim. With that in mind, the best way to prepare for the rematch against Manchester United is to play well at the weekend.
"I don't want to only think about Manchester. I don't want my players to only think of the Champions League," said Guardiola in Friday's press conference. "When possible, these players will not play. The next match is always the most important. We have to play well every week in order to better ourselves." [AZ]
For that reason, one would be naïve to suggest that everyone playing at midweek will sit. By the same token, players will have the ability to rest before the Champions League quarterfinal.
The biggest expected absentee is Manuel Neuer, for Guardiola named Tom Starke his starting goalkeeper against Hoffenheim. Starke played two seasons with Hoffenheim before accepting his job as Neuer's emergency replacement.
An indicator of which regulars will play could be the players who sat at midweek, for Guardiola likely sat players in Berlin with the long-term in mind. The Spaniard could have also saved his two canisters from Bayern's trip to Hoffenheim, Franck Ribery and Mario Mandzukic, in order to fire them again at the Rückrunde rematch.
Direct replacements are inevitable, for the fixture list dictates as such. Diego Contento, Xherdan Shaqiri and Javi Martinez will likely spell David Alaba, Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng, saving Guardiola's regulars for the England trip. It would also not be a shock to see the captain and vice-captain on the bench to start the match, allowing Thiago Alcântara and Rafinha to appear in the Starting XI.
If the squad proves anything against Hoffenheim, it is how a B+ squad will not change the result for Bayern.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Franck Ribéry – Thomas Müller – Xherdan Shaqiri
Toni Kroos – Thiago Alcantara
Diego Contento – Dante – Javi Martinez – Rafinha
The intoxicating story line of the 2013/14 Bundesliga is how well-established teams have fallen and the new kids on the block are fighting for spots in Europe. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim has swapped narratives with Hamburger SV, fighting for a Europa League spot while Hamburger SV is struggling to stay afloat.
A squad stuck in mediocrity has cranked its play up a notch. Through 27 matches, Hoffenheim has scored 18 more goals than all of last season. Anthony Modeste could be the biggest bang-for-your-buck addition of the season, scoring 11 goals after transferring for just €3 million from Bordeaux in the summer.
The glut of forwards has forced a very direct attacking style from Marcus Grisdol. Fullbacks Fabian Johnson and Andreas Beck provide all the flank play, and frequently venture into the penalty area. Roberto Firmino is the adhesive in the hole, keeping all the attack together and providing spectacular goals himself.
The glaring weakness in the side is the defense, with Grisdol having to rely on 18-year-old Niklas Süle and 21-year-old Jannik Vestergaard. David Abraham, the Argentinian elder statesman, is still rehabing a muscle strain, and the below average defense has been even worse in his absence.
The recent defensive record for Hoffenheim has caused Koen Casteels to lose his starting postion to Jens Grahl. The tipping point was a four-goal outburst from Mainz, one that turned a 2-0 advantage into a 2-4 defeat. Grahl has stood his ground against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Hannover 96, although Hoffenheim have still surrendered 3 goals in its last two matches.
While Hoffenheim has not recorded the most attractive results, it is an exciting club to watch nonetheless.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Sejad Salihović – Roberto Firmino – Kevin Volland
Sebastian Rudy – Eugen Polanski
Andreas Beck – Niklas Süle – Thomas Strobl – Fabian Johnson
Bench: Koen Casteels, Stefan Thesker, Jannik Vestergaard, Jiloan Hamad, Tarik Elyounoussi, Kenan Karaman, Kai Herdling
With the direct attacking power of Hoffenheim, the spine of Bayern will no doubt be tested. The Rekordmeister have only surrendered multiple goals only once in the Bundesliga, and that occurred in Allianz Arena. With a lessened size. do not be surprised with a bit of a shootout in the Allianz.
Projected Score: FC Bayern München (3-2) TSG 1899 Hoffenheim