In match week 33 of the 2011-2012 Bundesliga season. FC Bayern has two huge matches coming up over the next month, and this ain't one of them. But, it's the last home match of the league season, and also probably a chance for some of the new guys to get a few minutes, so we'll still be hoping for a good performance. Stuttgart still has something to play for, as do a few other Bundesliga sides, which we'll explore below.
Some interesting decisions to be made. We're far enough away from both the Pokal final and the CL final that we don't really need to "rest" anyone. In fact, getting too much rest might be problematic. At the same time, injuries would be catastrophic, especially along our back line. Plus, some of the guys who are going to be deputized into duty during the CL final should probably get some work in. So I don't expect to see our A-team at every position.
Ribey - Olic - Mueller
Schweinsteiger - Pranjic
Contento - Badstuber - Tymoschuk - Rafinha
Certainly some guess-work going on here, but at least let me give my reasoning: Gomez is level with KJH at the top of the Bundesliga scoring chart. He'd love a chance to win that title for the second straight year. Butt might be playing his last home game, and Neuer could maybe use a break. Contento and Rafina need to get playing time, because at least one of them (and maybe both) will have to figure heavily in our CL final squad.
And Olic? The Gomezolic combo hasn't been seen all year, and I would just love to see it once before he leaves. Probably not going to happen, but we'll see.
VfB hasn't lost in the league since February, although they saw their charge up the table blunted a bit with a 1-1 draw last week. [** UPDATE - this next part is actually only partially true - there are 3 EL spots, actually, so VfB's motivation is possible upwards but not downwards. Thanks to Ollikahn for the correction **] If they win their next two, they could conceivably get past Monchengladbach into a CL spot. Conversely, if they lose their last two, they could possibly drop below H96 and lose their Europa League spot. Neither of these are all that likely, but it's certainly enough to get VfB up for the match and starting their best players.
After a disappointing season last year, in which they finished 12th and were never really in contention for a European spot, Stuttgart has had a very solid campaign. After opening the season by thrashing Schalke 3-0 in their first game in their newly renovated stadium, VfB lumbered through the fall and winter, looking mostly like a mid-table team. But beginning in late February, they really took off, and they now haven't lost a match in over two months. During that period, they've scored at least four goals on five occasions, including that thrilling 4-4 draw vs. Dortmund a few weeks ago that momentarily gave us a shot at getting back into the title race.
Cacau has struggled with fitness and hasn't had his best year, but Martin Harnik has been deadly (17 goals) and Vedad Ibisevic has been on fire since coming over in the winter transfer period (8 goals and 6 assists). Their defense, though, has been just OK, and as I recall Gomez always lights it up against his former club. So it will be interesting to see whether Heynckes throws him out there, and whether VfB can contain him if he does.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga
As mentioned above, H96 has a slim chance at passing Stuttgart for 5th. Their chance at passing Leverkusen for 6th place and a Europa spot, though, is very real: the two clubs play each other tomorrow, with Hannover currently sitting only three points back. And Hannover closes out the year at home vs. lowly Kaiserslautern, while Bayer Levs travel to Nurnberg. So that match tomorrow is big: if H96 can pick up a win, they're definitely in the hunt for a spot in the EL. But if Leverkusen can fight them off, they stamp their ticket to European play next year.
In other action, Hertha is desperately trying to climb out of 17th (an automatic relegation spot) and into 16th (which gives them a play-in to stay up). Hertha is on the road against Schalke, who certainly has a better team but maybe doesn't have as much to play for. The club Hertha is trying to pass, Koeln, is on the road vs. Freiburg before hosting Bayern next week. And Augsburg is probably feeling pretty decent about playing another year in the 1. Bundi, but they'd love to get a win on the road at Monchengladbach to make it a sure thing.
- The match will be carried live on ESPN 3 and ESPN Deportes, and we'll be here with the Match Day Thread. As always, if you are having trouble logging in or commenting, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll straighten it out.
- Down on the farm, Eintracht Frankfurt and SpVgg G-F (hope I spelled those right?) have secured promotion. Let's hear it for our next-year-neighbors. Meanwhile, Fortuna Duesseldorf and St. Pauli are locked in a heated battle for the 3rd place spot (which gives them a play-in chance). Fortuna currently holds a 1-point lead, but they're on the road against that dangerous SpVgg club.
Isn't Duesseldorf also in NR-W? Wouldn't that make, like, 6 clubs in the 1. Bundesliga from pretty much the same area? I guess I'm rooting for St. Pauli.
- We'll have more on Dante, Olic, Usami, and others next week. Busy few days here for me since getting back into the country. As always, to correct errors and provide further information, email me or hit me up on twitter at http://twitter.com/bayern_offside. Thanks for reading.