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Preview: FC Bayern vs. Hannover 96

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Bayern Munich sits atop the Bundesliga table, is still alive in the DFB Pokal tournament, and has qualified for the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League. Pretty much all you could ask for at this point in the season. And yet there is certainly a sense that the club has underperformed on a few occasions, must recently this week's lackluster draw vs. Valencia. Now, Bayern hosts a decent Hannover squad in ...

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Alexander Hassenstein

Match Week 13 of the 2012-2013 Bundesliga season. Bayern is in 1st place in the league, but, as we saw last year, that can be a precarious position. Every point matters, so home matches need to be consistently turned into 3 points - especially when the opponents are playing on 2 days' rest. And with several of our closest pursuers facing each other, this could be a chance for Bayern to extend the lead and make a statement.

The Line-Up

Long-time absentees Gusatvo and Boateng are still not available. Robben is "doubtful" according to the Times of India, but that same article says that Ribery has looked good in practice and should be ready to play. Mario Gomez, of course, has returned and was able to play in the recent draw with Valencia. Here's my guess:

Gomez

Ribery - Mueller - Shaqiri

Martinez - Schweinsteiger

Alaba - Badstuber - van Buyten - Lahm

Neuer

The absentees being Kroos and Dante. Nothing against them (they've both been playing well), just figured we need to rotate a bit with a long run of matches on tap. As always, leave your guess and/or let me know what I got wrong in the comments.

The Opponent

The good news for Hannover 96 supporters: their club has qualified for the knock-out stage of the Europa League, and will probably win their group. The not-so-good news: tomorrow's match takes place less than 2 days after the most recent Europa League match, a 0-0 draw against Twente.

And yet this doesn't look like an easy stroll through the park for Bayern. Hannover's leading scorer, Mohammed Abdellaoue, didn't play in the Twente match. And their play-maker, Szabolcs Huszti, who leads the 1. Bundesliga with 7 assists, came off in the second half. So I don't expect H96 to show up exhausted and hoping to get out alive - they have a +1 goal differential on the road this season, and their most recent road match in the league was a 4-2 hammering of VfB Stuttgart. Hannover doesn't try to monopolize possession just for the sake of possession - they might finish a match with under 45 percent of the ball, but still make most of their chances count. And, as we've seen over the past few seasons, Bayern can be vulnerable to the counter.

Elsewhere in the Competition

As mentioned above, a few other top clubs face tough matchups. Dortmund will travel to Mainz (one fo the clubs that, like H96, are level on 17 points). Mainz has 4 wins out of 5 home matches, this season, and they've conceded only 2 goals total in those matches. Now, they haven't face anyone as good as BVB, but they did clean-sheet Augsburg, Duesseldorf, and TSG Hoffenheim consecutively at the Coface Arena. I think their chances of earning at least a point are decent.

Schalke 04 (currently in 2d place) and Eintracht Frankfurt (currently in 3d) battle each other. I'd give S04 the edge, but keep in mind they played a midweek match this week while Frankfurt did not. Wouldn't be a big shock to see a draw here. Sunday's field is semi-interesting, with Leverkusen travelling to Hoffenheim and Freiburg hosting VfB Stuttgart.

Final Notes

- Say what you will about Gol TV, but they've been making it pretty easy for Bayern fans this year. Our match is on live once again, kicking off at 3:30 PM local time.

- I'm doing this from a train station, and not even sure this is going to load, so I'm not going to go through and set up the time convertor. But this is the same slot as most of our matches this season. Match Day Thread will be up in the morning. Thanks for reading.