One could look at this fixture and see it as a top of the table clash. One could look at it as another bout between two storied clubs. It could be a sibling rivalry between the Boatengs, a trip down nostalgia lane for Manuel Neuer or Rafinha, or a classic red-against-blue football enmity.
Those may all be true, but Saturday's match between FC Bayern München and FC Schalke 04 is one of the Rekordmeister's last league tests of the 2013/14 season. With a 19 point lead in the Bundesliga, VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, along with the Königsblauen, are the clubs with the best chances to trip up the big red machine before an inevitable 24th title.
The degree of difficulty during this test might not be high either. Real Madrid just embarrassed Schalke at home with a 6-1 result, and 1. FSV Mainz 05 stymied Schalke to a scoreless draw the weekend before. FC Bayern are coming off of two consecutive 4-0 victories in the league, the same score between these two clubs the last time they met in Veltins Arena.
This is a top of the table clash, but it certainly does not feel like one.
The Match (99th meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: Dr. Jochen Drees
FC Bayern: 7 W, 3 D, 1 L – 13 YC, 1 RC
Assistants: Tobias Christ, Christian Gittelmann
Fourth Official: Daniel Siebert
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming
US: GolTV USA
UK: BT Sport 1
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1 | HD, WDR 2
FC Bayern: WWWWW
Schalke 04: LDWWW
Meetings in 2013/14
W, 4-0 (FCB: Schweinsteiger 21', Mandžukić 22', Ribéry 75', Pizarro 84')
Bundesliga: 43 W, 26 D, 18 L
DFB-Pokal: 6 W, 1 D, 2 L
Ligapokal: 2 W, 0 L
DFL Supercup: 1 W, 0 L
1. Gerhard "Gerd" Müller, FCB – 19
2. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, FCB – 12
3. Klaus Fischer, S04 – 10
4. Dieter Hoeneß, FCB – 7
5. Rüdiger Abramczik, S04; Dieter Brenninger, FCB; Lothar Matthäus, FCB; Rainer Ohlhauser, FCB – 6
Largest Victory: 8-1 (April 9, 1988; Gelsenkirchen, Germany)
Largest Defeat: 0-7 (October 9, 1976; Munich, Germany)
Bastian Schweinsteiger's full return against Hannover 96 was like re-watching a foal stand up for the first time. He tangoed with Lahm in the midfield, got very involved in the play, and even floated an assist to Thiago Alcantara to boot. Now the real shuffle begins.
Before getting into the entire midfield matchup, one that FC Bayern has an upper hand in more than normal, let us consider that FIFA has a friendly date this coming Wednesday. Rafinha, Thiago and Javier Martínez have all been called up to their respective national teams, and each face an elbow duel for a World Cup roster spot more than the other 13 players called up.
Manager Pep Guardiola does not have the luxury to sit all three of those players since Xherdan Shaqiri is not fully fit and Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller are both sidelined. However it would not be a shock if two of those three players got a breather to be fit for midweek.
Back to the midfield puzzle, the center of the park might benefit from having Martínez in midfield in light of Schalke's opponents who have packed the midfield. Having Martínez as a physical piece, as well as a piece that is good in the air, is a great luxury to have.
If Rafinha were to sit, Guardiola could take advantage of seeing how a side with Philipp Lahm at right back would play in an energetically attacking system. Schalke is a team with some of the best wing play in the Bundesliga, and having the captain back at his spot may limit the Königsblauen's options out on the flanks. That would leave Schweinsteiger as a six, a role that Guardiola wanted him to play earlier in the season.
All of these speculations could be misguided, but five days match-free allows for more possibilities.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1)
Mario Götze – Toni Kroos – Javier Martínez – Arjen Robben
David Alaba – Dante – Jérôme Boateng – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Tom Starke, Diego Contento, Daniel van Buyten, Rafinha, Thiago Alcantara, Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro
FC Schalke took advantage of the fixture list at the beginning of the Rückrunde to reestablish the blue pride, and until this past week, the blue was shining brighter than ever. Then came a lackluster result against 1. FSV Mainz 05 (a 0-0 draw at home) and a bombardment from Real Madrid (1-6 loss in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16).
A team that was flying high has returned to the earth with a thump, looking more black and blue rather than blue. Felipe Santana left the match with a muscle strain and Sead Kolasinac with a jaw bruise. Schalke's entire double pivot, Kevin Prince Boateng and Roman Neustädter, both are questionable with muscle and knee problems respectively.
Fortunately for manager Jens Keller, the youngsters he has relied upon during tough times are playing at a high level. Max Meyer has excelled as a playmaker, although he has cooled off in recent matches. Leon Goretzka has been inconsistent in his very brief time in the lineup, although highly touted phenom Julian Draxler may soon send him back to the bench.
Schalke is a very direct team that finishes its chances – its 41 league goals is fourth in the Bundesliga – but struggle against strong attacking teams. The wing play is the real strength, as Jefferson Farfan having perhaps the best showing of his career during this campaign. The fact that Felipe Santana's absence may be hard to handle speaks to the mediocrity of the Königsblauen defence.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Julian Draxler – Max Meyer – Jefferson Farfan
Roman Neustädter – Kevin Prince Boateng
Benedikt Höwedes – Kyriakos Papadopoulos – Joel Matip – Christian Fuchs
Bench: Timo Hildebrand, Sead Kolasinac, Tim Hoogland, Anthony Annan, Leon Goretzka, Adam Szalai, Chinedu Obasi
Coming into the last meeting between these two, FC Bayern had yet to throttle an opponent and Schalke had won four consecutive matches in all competitons. That match ended in a 4-0 shellacking in Gelsenkirchen. Now FC Bayern come into the match healthier and ever, and Schalke still have tread marks from the the midweek champions league clash. Oh, and the match is in Allianz Arena, where die Roten have not dropped a points in the league in 19 consecutive matches. If the match is a test, it might be at a first-grade level.
Projected Score: FC Bayern München 4-0 FC Schalke 04