Just a year ago, FC Bayern München's fabulous eight-game winning streak in the Bundesliga came to a screeching halt. Sidney Sam's winning strike in the 87th minute tripped the perfect start, giving the Bavarian giants their only loss of the season.
FC Bayern now take a 32 match unbeaten streak to Leverkusen, once again putting an unbeaten start in the German top flight on the line against a club that wants to be cool like the German big boys.
Third in the table, Bayer 04 Leverkusen want to dig a moat around their fortress in south-west Germany, defending their perfect 5-0 Bundesliga record in BayArena.
Manchester City provided a nice international test for Pep Guardiola and his squad, but now FC Bayern need to bring their recent accolades back to the domestic front.
The Match (71st meeting)
Location: BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany
Head Referee: Knut Kircher
FC Bayern: 18 W, 8 D, 4 L (40 YC, 1 RC)
Assistant Referees: Robert Kempter , Thorsten Schiffner
Fourth Official: Mark Borsch
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming: GolTV (US), BT Sport 1 (UK), Sky Bundesliga 1/Sky Bundesliga 2 | HD (Germany)
To say that FC Bayern have been on a tear is an understatement. Since their embarrassing DFL Supercup showing in Signa Iduna Park, Die Roten have gotten a point from all of their games. But now comes not only a Bundesliga test for Pep Guardiola, but a selection test as well.
Mario Götze is back, having played five garbage time minutes in Manchester. Judging the criterion pertinent to the Bastian Schweinsteiger return, Götze should not expect a Starting XI spot just yet. Another cameo appearance seems highly likely though.
The 18-man team sheet will compel, for the inclusions could give a window into the direction Guardiola intends to bring his squad. Jan Kirchhoff, now fitter than before, may appear once again on the bench, which means Diego Contento's days as a consistent team sheet option could be limited.
Then there is the matter of Mario Mandzukic, who sat all 90 minutes on FC Bayern's venture to England. Presumably the 27-year-old Croatian will appear back in the side, but that means one of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and even Arjen Robben will have to sit.
One constant seems Rafinha, who has now started all six games since the September World Cup Qualifiers. That means Lahm will remain in the center of the park, playing the deep support for Dante and Jérôme Boateng (which at times has looked like a back three with Rafinha and David Alaba bombing forward).
Guardiola has startled before with some of his selections, so this guess is just as good as yours:
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Ribéry – Kroos – Schweinsteiger – Robben
Alaba – Dante – Boateng – Rafinha
Bench: Starke, van Buyten, Kirchhoff, Müller, Götze, Shaqiri, Pizarro
Do not be mistaken. This Bayer 04 Leverkusen team is a legitimate foe. Stellar at home, the only two defeats occured on the road, a 2-0 loss to Schalke 04 in Veltins Arena and a 4-2 loss to Manchester United in Old Trafford.
Their success has largely come in conjunction with the rise of Sam. The 25-year-old German appears to finally found his feet, scoring five goals and assisting on three others. Stefan Kießling has also recreated his stellar performance from a year ago, scoring five goals himself up top.
With all hands on deck, manager Sami Hyypiä may just rotate his squad a tad, considering his midweek victory against Real Sociedad. Phillip Wollsheid may return to the center of defense, the young prospect replacing either Emir Saphic or Ömer Toprak. Emre Can may get a look-in, but it is improbable the 19-year-old will receive a cap against his former side, at least in the starting XI.
Besides that switch, a big showcase like FC Bayern is likely to see a similar cast of characters.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3):
Son – Kießling – Sam
Rolfes – Reinartz – Bender
Boenisch – Toprak – Wollscheid – Hilbert
Bench: Palop, Donati, Saphic, Can, Hegeler, Kruse, Derdiyok
For a neutral, this fixture should be at the top of his or her viewing schedule. These two teams have gone back and forth the past few seasons, although FC Bayern have won convincingly on a few occasions as well. With a deeper squad, Guardiola is only a knight move away from provoking Hyypiä's queen away from his king so that Guardiola's bishop can win the game. It will be close, and fun to watch.
Projected Score: Bayer 04 Leverkusen 1-2 FC Bayern München