The winter break in German football is a wonderful thing, and no club may be more excited for a few weeks rest than the black-and-blue Bayern Munich.
Pep Guardiola will have 15 players on his team sheet – 13 field players, two goalkeepers – having to yet again pick from a thin crop when he makes his prematch plans. That means a lot of out-of-position players trying to grind out a result to clutch what seems like an air-tight five-point lead atop the Bundesliga.
Fortunately for Bayern, Hannover is not having the best of luck in many respects, collecting just six points in their last eight matches. They are a team that several sides have struggled to match up with though, Michael Frontzeck playing Salif Sané and Leon Andreasen higher up the field to present physical mismatches. Bayern have not dropped many points this season, but all of them came on the road, and a thin squad will have to work very hard to take three points into the winter break.
The Match (56th Meeting)
Location: HDI-Arena, Hannover, Germany
Head: Manuel Gräfe
FC Bayern: 20 W, 7 D, 7 L – 69 YC, 2 Y/R, 1 RC
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Television and Streaming:
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FC Bayern: WWWLW
Hannover 96: LLWLL
Bundesliga: 35 W, 8 D, 9 L
DFB Pokal: 3 W, 0 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 7-0 (Bundesliga: April 17, 2010, Munich)
Largest Defeat: 1-3 (Bundesliga: September 22, 1973, Hannover; March 5, 2011)
Guardiola's management style has looked strange at times, but it is in these times he deserves a little more credit. His limited supply of players may be a problem for most managers, but his proactive approach to player positioning has allowed him, and Bayern, to survive in tight times.
Joshua Kimmich is the most recent example of this, a midfield player who ran the show a year ago from midfield, but will probably slot into defense with the resources so thin. This of course is a position he played in Bayern's midweek cup victory against Darmstadt, slotting in deeper in possession to allow Philipp Lahm to widen the play on the right wing. With Lahm unavailable due to muscle tightness, Kimmich will slot in and not be totally uncomfortable.
Kimmich in defense will not hide Bayern's current issues in attack though. The one-on-one stallions are not in the stable, which means Bayern will have to find another way to get the ball in to its finishers. The club tried an over-the-top approach that had mixed results, but that is not going to work against the physical midfielders and defenders Hannover has. Even though their one-touch passing may be slower than some clubs, it could be the key to opening space up for runners into the box.
Bayern will undoubtedly take their struggles on the road with them to Hannover, but this grind of a match will be a test Bayern can easily overcome.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Kingsley Coman – Thiago Alcântara – Arturo Vidal – Thomas Müller
Rafinha – Jérôme Boateng – Javi Martínez – Joshua Kimmich
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Holger Badstuber, Jan Kirchhoff, Sebastian Rode
Out/Suspended: David Alaba (ankle), Medhi Benatia (thigh), Juan Bernat (Groin), Douglas Costa (muscle injury), Mario Götze (groin), Philipp Lahm (tightness), Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben (tightness)
The fall of Hannover is progressing more rapidly, and the club cannot do much to avoid an inevitable relegation. The young players they have invested in have not really worked out, stunting their growth as a Bundesliga club.
Frontzeck has done his best to keep his club organized, and they have managed to push relegation further into the future because of it. The physical identity he has given the club has also helped them stay toe-to-toe with many clubs, managing to avoid major blowouts for the most part. Their defense is not good at preventing chances though, which opponents have eventually have to put in.
Their attack is what is putting them in the relegation zone though, without a great attacking option. Their joint-leading goalscorer Artur Sobiech is now out with a hamstring injury, which makes an already bleak attack look even worse. Set pieces have been their best chance to score, although Kenan Karaman and Andreasen know how to score when they have the space to do it.
Hannover have an opportunity to take points off of the league's best team, but even with many factors working into their favor, they may not have the squad to do it.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Edgar Prib – Leon Andreasen – Kenan Karaman
Salif Sané – Ceyhun Gülselam
Miiko Albornoz – Christian Schulz – Marcelo – Hiroki Sakai
Bench: Philipp Tschauner, Felipe, Andre Hoffmann, Manuel Schmiedebach, Felix Klaus, Charlison Benschop, Melvüt Erdinç
Out/Suspended: Uffe Bech (ribs), Hiroshi Kiyotake (foot), Artur Sobiech (hamstring), Oliver Sorg (bruise)
This is going to be a grind in every sense of the word. Bayern will have to churn and churn until the finally whittle Hannover's defense down. Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller may have to create their own space if they want to score, but one cannot bet against Thiago threading a ball or two through. If midweek's result tells us anything, it is that Bayern can find a winner in even the darkest of circumstances.
The Other Action
FC Schalke 04 vs. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
Hamburger SV vs. FC Augsburg (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. SV Werder Bremen (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
1. FC Köln vs. Borussia Dortmund (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
FC Ingolstadt 04 vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
VfB Stuttgart vs. VfL Wolfsburg (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)
Hertha Berliner SC vs. 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Sunday, 9:30 AM ET)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. SV Darmstadt 98 (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
UEFA Champions League Opponent
Carpi vs. Juventus (Sunday, 6:30 AM ET)
MSV Duisburg vs. VfL Bochum (Sunday, 7:30 ET)
|Hertha Berliner SC||9||2||5||24||18||+6||29|
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||7||3||6||24||20||+4||24|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||7||3||6||23||21||+2||24|
|FC Schalke 04||7||3||6||22||23||-1||24|
|1. FC Köln||5||6||5||16||20||-4||21|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||5||5||6||11||17||-6||20|
|SV Darmstadt 98||4||6||6||15||23||-8||18|
|SV Werder Bremen||4||3||9||16||30||-14||15|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||2||7||7||17||24||-7||13|