Since Bayern Munich's return to dominance, there has never been as much uncertainty going into the first match of the season than their match Friday with VfL Wolfsburg.
They lost one of their best playmakers to Real Madrid and a defensive staple to injury, and their World Cup players are not fully fit. By the same token, the quality up and down the roster can cope with the variables presented to them.
"A big club like FC Bayern must always win, but we have to concentrate on our performance and always improve ourselves," said manager Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference. "We are not in our ideal situation, but okay: I have patience and will not deplore myself."
Wolfsburg is a team that is attempting to surge towards the top, but the defense that has twice given up six goals to Bayern in the past two years has changed minimally. A win like this would be the perfect launching point for Bayern to start their season from.
The Match (39th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming:
US: GolTV, MyGermanTV+
UK: BT Sport 1
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1 | HD, Sky Go, ARD Das Erste
FC Bayern: WL
Bundesliga: 27 W, 4 D, 3 L
DFB Pokal: 4 W, 0 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 6-1 (Bundesliga: March 8, 2014, Wolfsburg; DFB-Pokal: April 16, 2013, Munich)
Largest Defeat: 1-5 (Bundesliga: April 4, 2009, Wolfsburg)
The strongest narrative of the 2014/15 season is the switch to a three-man defense, but it was a necessary adjustment from Guardiola based on his options available.
Franck Ribéry (knee), Javi Martíntez (knee), Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Rafinha (leg), Thiago Alcantara (knee), and Mitchell Weiser (ankle) have depleted Bayern's depth, and Guardiola will be without Jérôme Boateng as well with the completion of his red card suspension. The tactical dilemma Guardiola has on his drawing board is significant, but it is one he seems to have adjusted to.
"Our build-up play is better with three defenders than with four, but you are perhaps more stable with four," said Guardiola. "Every systems has its advantages and disadvantages."
With Boateng's suspension, Holger Badstuber will get his first Bundesliga start since he tore his ACL in 2012. David Alaba will have to return as an adjacent center back due to the lack of personnel, with Bernat flanking him on the left. The good news is that Arjen Robben is fit, according to Guardiola, and he might become a significant factor.
"I think he could [start], but the trainer decides," said Guardiola laughing.
Bayern has been immune to the return of Wolfsburg to prominence, and with a home fixture to kick of the season, they will be poised to be so again.
Projected Lineup (3-4-2-1):
Thomas Müller – Xherdan Shaqiri
Juan Bernat – Sebastian Rode – Philipp Lahm – Pierre-Emile Højbjerg
David Alaba – Dante – Holger Badstuber
Bench: Pepe Reina, Tom Starke, Gianluca Gaudino, Mario Götze, Arjen Robben, Julian Green, Claudio Pizarro
VfL Wolfsburg's resurgence has lead to a lot of change in personnel, but the identity of the club has stayed the same.
"We will try to pull through our game," said manager Dieter Hecking. "We went very well with it last year."
They build up their play in a smooth, controlled manor, trying to find the right situations to take advantage of their opponents. Their attacking midfielders are their pacemakers, Kevin de Bruyne orchestrating the attack forward.
"We need clear tactical discipline," said Hecking. "It is important to play out of a good structure and thread the needle."
They added Aaron Hunt to the mix, who moved from neighbor Werder Bremen on a free transfer, to add to that philosophy, giving them five above-average attacking midfielders to control the game. The issue comes in holding midfield, with Slobodan Medojevic questionable to play. Luiz Gustavo and Sebastian Jung have returned to the team, but neither are expected to play.
Switzerland international Diego Benaglio will have to sit this one out, unable to practice with an illness. Max Grün, who was impressive in Wolfsburg's penalty shootout victory against Darmstadt.
Whether or not Wolfsburg can stop Bayern remains the question, and that might not be answered in the opening match of the season.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Kevin de Bruyne – Maximilian Arnold – Aaron Hunt
Josuha Guilavogi – Junior Malanda
Ricardo Rodriguez – Robin Knoche – Naldo – Vieirinha
Bench: Patrick Drewes, Marcel Schäfer, Timm Klose, Slobodan Medojevic, Luiz Gustavo, Daniel Caligiuri, Bas Dost
The pace of this match will be very slow, both Bayern and Wolfsburg trying to find the right moment to pounce. The back three might become a problem for Bayern if the shifting attacking line for Wolfsburg is able to pull someone out of position, but Alaba's recovery ability will provide an additional buffer to cut off a Wolfsburg advance. Lewandowski will drive the front line, getting a critical first Bundesliga goal to start his Bayern tenure.
Projected Score: Bayern München (2-1) VfL Wolfsburg