Bayern Munich takes on Bundesliga bottom-dwellers Borussia Monchengladbach tomorrow in a deceptively important match. With 7 games remaining in the season, Bayern currently sits in fourth place, 2 points behind Hannover for the third-place spot (which comes with a spot in next year’s Champions League last-round qualifying) and 7 points adrift from Bayer Leverkusen for second place (which comes with an automatic spot in the Champions League group stage).
Given the remaining schedules of the 4 clubs at the top of the Bundesliga table, tomorrow’s action at the Allianz Arena could play a huge part in determining what Bayern is able to do over the next several months and even years. This might sound like an exaggeration, but follow along with me for a few paragraphs and you might see what I mean.
Bayern’s final 7 matches this year are as follows:
- April 2: home vs. ‘Gladbach
- April 9: at Nurnberg
- April 17: home vs. Bayer Levs
- April 23: at Eintracht Frankfurt
- April 30: home vs. Schalke 04
- May 7: at St. Pauli
- May 14: home vs. VfB Stuttgart
Most of those 7 opponents are currently out of contention, and 4 of the 7 are actually in danger of relegation. This would seem to augur well for Bayern - even with our inconsistent form and numerous mistakes this year, we certainly have a talent advantage against all of these opponents. However, there are two factors that make playing teams close to the bottom of the table problematic: first, they are fighting against relegation, and are therefore going to have plenty of motivation. At this point in the season, a mid-table team that’s safe from relegation but has no hope of finishing in the top 5 is just playing out the string, but a team anywhere near the bottom 3 is still fighting for every point. Additionally, some of those clubs are in a position where a single point helps them immensely, meaning they might be happy to play defensively and avoid any risks in hope of getting a draw.
The other problem with our schedule is that it doesn’t give us much of a chance to inflict damage on our closest rivals at the same time we (hopefully) pick up points. Only a single of our last 7 matches, and none of our last 4, are against a team above us in the table. In other words, depending upon what Dortmund and Hannover do (entirely out of our control) and what Bayer Leverkusen does (mostly out of our control), we could win every match and still not finish in the top 3. Clearly that’s no one’s fault but ours for blowing so many winnable matches, but the fact remains - we need to both win AND do a bit of scoreboard watching over these last two months.
Tomorrow is a good example. We’re at home to take on a ‘Gladbach team that’s given up the most goals in the league by far. So, without getting overconfident, you have to like Bayern’s chances to get a win. Kicking off at the same time (9:30 AM my time), Dortmund is at home against Hannover. Given Dortmund’s ruthless home form this year - they’ve lost only once and conceded only 6 goals - there’s a good chance that Hannover could lose, and very little likelihood that they come away with a win. This means that, if Bayern is able to get a win, we could go to bed tomorrow night in third place on the BL table - either with a 1-point lead over Hannover, or tied for third but with an unassailable edge in goal differential. This is all speculation, of course, but I think at least it’s informed speculation.
Next week, Hannover takes over a dangerous Mainz team (fifth place, +8 goal differential, locked in a fight for a Europa League spot), but then they finish with 5 matches against non-contenders. Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen has a winnable game against Kaiserslautern tomorrow, then they’re at home vs. St. Pauli next week before travelling to the Allianz to play us. After that, their schedule is fairly easy (no matches against anyone in the top 6).
I know this is getting hard to follow, so I’ll summarize by saying this: if we win our next 3 in a row (‘Gladbach, Nurnberg, Leverkusen) there’s a good chance that we’d be in third place in the standings, and within striking distance (4 points or less) of second. If we win 2 and draw 1 of our next 3, we’re still alive, but we’d have to start looking for some help from other teams. Anything short of that (i.e., anything less than 7 points from our next 3 matches) and we’re in deep trouble as far as making the Champions League next year.
Which would present a host of problems. In addition to the disappointment that Bayern’s fan would feel, failure to make the CL Group Stage deprives us of a huge cash infusion, and makes us a much less attractive option for other players. Even members of our current roster might be tempted into asking for a move if one of the big-spending teams came calling, although ESPN’s soccernet contains an encouraging report on the Robben situation. The bottom line is that the results of next month will have massive implications on what Bayern can do this summer and beyond.
Robben is “hopeful” of playing tomorrow, saying he has trained with the club this week. Daniel van Buyten is out, another casualty of the international week. Badstuber figures to get the start in his place. ‘Gladbach has beaten us only one in the past 42 times we’ve played, but as mentioned above, a draw does us no good. This must be a 3-point outing, and I’d prefer to see 2 first half goals to make is feel secure.
ESPN 3 is carrying the match live, for those who have access to it. Also, Gol TV is running the Dortmund vs. Hannover match, so if you’re so inclined, you could have one match on your computer monitor and another on your TV screen. The fun starts tomorrow morning - tune in and we should have a Match Day post up with any final injury and line-up updates. Thanks for reading.