First things first - my sincere thanks to Peter for manning the blog in my absence. With numerous well-written posts and a slew of comments, including one purporting to be from Bastian Schweinsteiger, it's a good thing I got back when I did, lest he take my job. Thanks, man.
As for tomorrow - Bayern takes on a dangerous Villareal side our first Group A match of the UEFA Champions League group stage. As we all know, Group A is tough from top to bottom, with these two clubs joined by Manchester City and Napoli to form the strongest group of the tournament. An early stumble could put any team in a big hole, so I don't think anyone would argue that this is our biggest game of the season so far.
Luckily, we come into the match in killer form. Bayern has won two straight by a combined total of ten to nil. Our offense is running on all cylinders, even without Arjen Robben, as Ribery, Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller have been cutting a swath of destruction through Bundesliga opposition. Villareal is unlikely to get hit for seven, but if Bayern can show the aggression and precision of the past few weeks, we have to be considered the favorite, even on the road.
With Robben still rubbing his injured groin, we saw the now-familiar front four of Gomez up top, then Ribery-Kroos-Müller behind him vs. Freiburg. You can expect this to continue for tomorrow, although Usami on the right wing with Müller moving back to his natural CAM spot is also an option - if not for a starting formation, at least as the first substitution.
Although van Buyten has played well in his time so far this season, Badstuber and Boateng are surely the preferred CB combo for a game of this magnitude. Lahm and Rafinha man the fullback spots, and it's these two that possibly give us our biggest advantage. With the front four terrorizing opposing defenses, Lahm and Raf have done a great job of slipping in to find the open space and send in accurate passes, as well as still getting back to defend when necessary.
In the 5 or 6 years I've been paying attention, Villarreal has generally been one of those 3rd-through-6th place clubs in La Liga, usually battling for a Champions League spot. While they're miles behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, they always have enough skill to worry anyone and have the resources to avoid going into the season without any gaping holes in their roster.
The Yellow Submarine have struggled a bit so far this year, going winless in two matches domestically while needing a second-leg victory to reverse a 1-0 first-leg loss to Odense in their final qualifying round match. But one look at their roster shows they aren't to be taken lightly. American-born Giuseppe Rossi leads the attack, and our back four will have our hands full keeping them out of the net. Borja Valero is missing in action with a suspension, but the Brazilian Nilmar was held out of the line-up this past weekend and will surely be fit for action tomorrow. The generally run the now-popular 4-2-3-1, but with both Nilmar and Rossi preferring to play up front, their club will practically have two strikers on the field at all times and Bayern will need to stay disciplined.
If Villarreal has a weakness, it's in their defense. Cristian Zapata is a versatile guy who was big for Udinese last year. But aside from him, they're without any true game-changers on their back line, and they've allowed 8 goals in their 4 competitive matches so far this year (granted, 5 on the road to Barcelona doesn't prove their weakness). If Robben were healthy, I'd feel even better, but nonetheless I think Müller, Gomez and Franck will have some room to create chances if they come out and assert themselves.
- Villareal's ground, El Madrigal, seats only 25,000. I don't recall watching a lot of games played there, but hopefully they don't have an overpowering home-pitch advantage. If anyone knows more about this, by all means fill us in.
- Tomorrow promises to be 97 degrees Farenheit (36 centigrade) in Villarreal, with no clouds and no wind. So fitness will be key, and both sides will probably go to the bench early and often. I saw Contento finally got some action this past weekend, and I have a hunch he will be called upon again.
- Love that haircut on Bastian.
- Happy birthday, Thomas Müller.
- Just an FYI - the term "soccer" is short for aSOCCiation football, an English term invented to distinguish the game from rugby football. It neither denotes American-ness, nor does it prove that someone is less of a fan. I generally use the two terms interchangeably. I understand that around the world people call this game that we love "football" or "futbol," but the use of "soccer," either in a post or in a comment, is not grounds for insulting someone.
- The vacation was great and I have a few pics I want to share. But I'll do that later this week - right now, the focus is on Villareal and picking up three points tomorrow. Bayern can't get caught napping in the early-going - offensively we need to not only control possession, but to be aggressive in dribbling and passing and to carve out space at every opportunity. If we can get an early goal, I think the game will open up and we can get a result.
The Match Day Thread will be up and running tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Peter for filling in.