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Preview: FC Bayern vs. Hertha Berlin (and beyond)

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Welcome back. The international break is over, and the final qualifications have been secured for the Euro 2012 Championships and the 2012 African Cup of Nations. Both of those competitions will be fun, and the Euro Championships will give us a good chance to watch Bayern players in their native habitat. But, for now, we’re back to the club grind.

And the club grind is getting heavier. FC Bayern plays Bundesliga matches for the next 4 weekends, and a mid-week game in between each. This gives us 7 matches in the span of 23 days, including road trips to Napoli and Hannover. If our long unbeaten and un-scored-upon streak is still intact by the end of the Augsburg match on November 6, then we’ll be in business.

First up is Hertha Berlin.  Die Blau-Weissen visit the Allianz Arena this Saturday.  The match will be broadcast live on ESPN 3, kicking off at 9:30 AM.  Gol! TV is taking a pass, preferring to show the previous day’s Werder Bremen-Dortmund match, but our Match Day Thread will be up and running from breakfast time.

THE LINE-UP

As you may have heard, Arjen Robben went back for surgery to correct his lingering groin problems.  The club said he would be sure to miss at least 10 days, but it seems likely that he won’t be back until November.  In the near term, this isn’t a disaster - the back-up plan of Müller on the right wing and Kroos in the CAM spot has worked out well.  But if Robben doesn’t come back at something close to full strength before the winter break, there’s a good chance Mr. Nerlinger will make a move for another forward in January.

Behind our now-regular front four of Ribery-Kroos-Müller-Gomez, everyone else appears to be available.  Schweinsteiger and Boateng were both held out of the Germany-Belgium match (Schweinsteiger with a bruise above the knee, Boateng with an undisclosed knock), but both appear to be ready to go.  The non-Bastian CM position seems to oscillate between Tymo and Gustavo - no word on that yet for this weekend, but I’ll update or add a note in the comments as information becomes available.

THE OPPONENT

Hertha Berlin torched the rest of the 2. Bundi last season, winning the league by 9 points and earning automatic promotion.  This was their first season at the lower division in 14 years - in their previous 13, they played in the top division every year and finished in the top 5 several times.

Bayern fans will recognize a few faces: Andreas Ottl, Thomas Kraft, and Christian Lell all start for Hertha.  Kraft has seemingly done well, as the club has allowed only 9 goals from 8 games (good for sixth-best in the Bundesliga).  He’s coming off a clean sheet vs. Köln, and you can see he made a few great saves in Hertha’s big road win against Dortmund:

Nice reaction saves from Kraft at 0:44 and 1:30.

As far as Ottl and Lell, I haven’t watched enough Hertha action this year to know how well they’re performing.  If anyone has an in-depth report, let’s hear it.  But overall, Hertha is having a solid season - 3 wins and 3 draws against 2 losses, and a respectable +3 goal differential.  Raffael “Two Fs” Caetano de Araújo leads them with 3 goals, including one in their recent 3-0 thumping of Köln.  He’s a small and quick Brazilian who covers a lot of ground; supposedly was an Arsenal target for a while.  Let’s go ahead and tag him as the guy we need to keep an eye on.

FINAL NOTES

- Manuel Neuer has gone over a thousand game-time minutes without a goal across all competitions.

- Ivica Olic says he hopes to get a new contract from Bayern at/before the end of this season.  If he doesn’t, he says he would understand and move on onto a different club.  Wherever he ends up, the next 8 months are his audition, especially with Robben on the shelf.  NBA basketball fans call that a “contract year.”

- For purposes of clarity, here’s the schedule alluded to above - 7 matches between now and November 6, inclusive:

OCT 15 - home vs. Hertha B in the BL

OCT 18 - at Napoli in the CL

OCT 23 - at Hannover in the BL

OCT 26 - home vs. Ingolstadt in the Pokal

OCT 29 - home vs. Nurnberg in the BL

NOV 2 - home vs. Napoli in the CL

NOV 6 - at Augsburg in the BL

During this same time, Manchester City and Villarreal play each other twice on Champions League Group A.  Ideally, Villarreal would at least take a point or two off City in those matches, although they’ve both sucked pretty bad so far and Bayern should win the group anyway if we just take care of business.

After that, we have two weeks off, but then matches against Dortmund, Villarreal and Mainz in the subsequent 9 days.  My guess is that Robben doesn’t play in any of those next 7 listed above, but returns sometime after that two week layoff (maybe in the Dortmund match).  I remember identifying that BVB-then-Villarreal stretch (Nov. 19 through 22) as a tough-looking pair of back-to-back games when the schedule was released, but it turns out they’ve both played pretty poorly.  The three coming up right now - Hertha, then Napoli, then Hannover - appear just as tough and just as important.

We’ll be back to update this between now and tomorrow night, and the Match Day thread will be up Saturday morning.  Thanks for reading.