Battered and bloodied, twisted and tweaked, Bayern Munich head to Mainz with a tall order in hand. Further injuries at midweek will add to the Rekordmeister's collection of hobbled players, and the squad's breath is starting to run out as it fights to get to the surface.
Pep Guardiola will have to take many players with him that he did not expect to rely on. His task to assemble a winning side is as arduous as last-minute holiday shopping, but this is where his managerial genius really shines. A strong performance on the road will be just another feather in his cap, a minor victory that will exemplify the mastery he has with football tactics.
Mainz meanwhile come in with rotten form, unable to build on their Europa League qualifying season. They are familiar with the injury bug as well, their defense drained from its top players. Both clubs will have to lean on each other as the do a three-legged race to the start of the Winterpause.
The Match (19th Meeting)
Location: Coface Arena, Mainz, Germany
Head: Felix Zwayer
FC Bayern: 9 W, 2 D, 2 L – 18 YC, 2 RC
Assistants: Florian Steuer, Marcel Pelgrim
Fourth Official: Thorsten Schriever
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming:
US: GolTV, MyGermanTV +
UK: ESPN UK | HD
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1 | HD, Sky Go
FC Bayern: WWWWW
Bundesliga: 11 W, 2 D, 3 L
DFB Pokal: 2 W, 0 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 4-0 (Bundesliga: December 16, 2006, Mainz)
Largest Defeat: 2-3 (Bundesliga: November 27, 2011, Mainz)
Another fall in Munich is now almost behind Bayern, and they have proven three things. One, record are only thresholds that people have not attained yet. Two, that having a bald head and a cleft chin is better managerial trait than having bleached hair and hipster glasses. And most importantly, a squad can never have too much depth.
Pep Guardiola will once again have limited resources to work with, but this time it will really affect the spine of the team. With Mehdi Benatia out with a groin issue, Xabi Alonso ruled out with an ankle bruise, and Sebastian Rode sick, the depth for the Bayern manager is thinner than a Marco Reus ankle ligament in defense. Whether that will deter the current form Bayern is on – six clean sheets in a row in the Bundesliga, and 13 clean sheets in the last 14 league matches – is up to what Guardiola can mix up in their stead.
Part of that concoction will have to include Bastian Schweinsteiger and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Both sat at midweek, and the will need to step up to fill Alonso's cleats. Guardiola utilized the one midfielder against Freiburg, but Robert Lewandowski "taking a bad step" in the match means that the gaffer has no other option but to deploy two deeper midfielders. Højbjerg might not have been in a great position to take on a role like this in such a crisis a few months ago, but after getting more action in December, he will slot in just fine for what Bayern will need.
It is remarkable though, that with ten injuries in the squad, Bayern are able to build an eleven that includes seven players that played in the World Cup. The player experience will be the big ticket to keep this side ticking. The Winterpause now cannot come sooner enough.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Franck Ribéry – Mario Götze – Arjen Robben
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – Bastian Schweinsteiger
Juan Bernat – Dante – Jérôme Boateng – Rafinha
Bench: Pepe Reina, Leopold Zingerle, Mitchell Weiser, Gianluca Gaudino, Xherdan Shaqiri, Lucas Scholl, Sinan Kurt
Out/Suspended: David Alaba (knee), Thiago Alcântara (knee), Xabi Alonso (ankle), Holger Badstuber (thigh), Mehdi Benatia (groin), Robert Lewandowski (foot), Javi Martínez (knee), Claudio Pizarro (thigh), Sebastian Rode (illness), Tom Starke (ankle)
Mainz made a lot of progress a year ago under Thomas Tuchel, getting into a position to enter European competition for just the second time in their history. Unfortunately, like many teams trapped in the bleak mid table, their losses undercut further progression up the table.
Tuchel left the club at the end of the season, and the club was forced to press the reset button with the hire of Kasper Hjulmand. To make matters worse, one of their attacking engines, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, signed a contract with Schalke 04. They have replenished the squad with young loanees, but that has not appeared to make a difference so far.
The one bright spot continues to be Shinji Okazaki, who is among the league leaders with his eight goals on the season. Working with a partner last year, Okazaki has been able to roam the final third all on his own, using his pace to make precise runs into the penalty area. Sami Allagui is sometimes his partner, but with the Tunisian only able to score one goal in eight appearances, Okazaki has had to operate all by his lonesome for most of the season.
Mainz's defense is one of the better collections of defenders in the Bundesliga, but injuries to Julian Baumgartlinger and Niko Bungert have left Hjulmand with mediocre or inexperienced options. They started the season with seven goals allowed in their first eight games, but have since surrendered 14 goals in their last nine. That has lead to an eight-match winless streak, plummeting to the lower half of the table with a Bundesliga leading 9 draws on the season.
A solid holding midfield of Johannes Geis and Park Joo-Hoo is going to have a handful with Bayern's attackers, even if one or two are missing. Mainz will have to spark a top performance in order to hold off the brutal Bavarians.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Jairo Samperio – Yunus Malli – Sami Allagui
Park Joo-Ho – Johannes Geis
Júnior Diaz – Nikolče Noveski – Stefan Bell – Daniel Brosinski
Bench: Stefanos Kapino, Gonzalo Jara, Philipp Wollscheid, Elkon Soto, Pablo Deblasis, Petar Slišković, Filip Djuričić
Out/Suspended: Julian Baumgartlinger (knee), Niko Bungert (knee), Koo Ja-Cheol (calf), Christoph Moritz (back), Todor Nedelev (foot), Robin Zentner (knee)
This is a match that is a strain Bayern's depth, but they have enough quality to limp to the halfway point. Mainz will do whatever they can to stay solid and grind out a result, but as Bayern have showed during the entire Hinrunde, a club can only defend for so long. Bayern will end their first half with a victory, but it might be the hardest they have had to fight for all season.
The Other Action
FC Schalke 04 vs. Hamburger SV (Saturday, 9:30 AM EST)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Saturday, 9:30 AM EST)
FC Augsburg vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Saturday, 9:30 AM EST)
SV Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund (Saturday, 9:30 AM EST)
VfB Stuttgart vs. SC Paderborn 07 (Saturday, 9:30 AM EST)
VfL Wolfsburg vs. 1. FC Köln (Saturday, 12:30 PM EST)
Hertha Berliner SC vs. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Sunday, 9:30 AM EST)
SC Freiburg vs. Hannover 96 (Sunday, 11:30 AM EST)
1. FC Heidenheim vs. Eintracht Braunschweig (Friday, 12:30 PM EST)
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||7||6||3||27||19||+8||27|
|FC Schalke 04||8||2||6||28||21||+7||26|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||6||5||5||24||25||-1||23|
|1. FC Köln||5||4||7||16||21||-5||19|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||3||9||4||18||21||-3||18|
|SC Paderborn 07||4||6||6||21||26||-5||18|
|Hertha Berliner SC||5||3||8||24||30||-6||18|
|SV Werder Bremen||3||5||8||24||38||-14||14|