As with most of the Bundesliga matches in April, the one this weekend in Leverkusen is not the top priority for Bayern Munich at the moment. The title is now firmly in their grasp, so Pep Guardiola will be making preparations for his return to Barcelona instead of focusing on getting three points.
With that in mind, the Bayern gaffer has many ways of going about his agenda. He will certainly want to keep players fit, especially with the lousy record Bayern has this season in the injury department. By the same token, he has players who need to regain their form, and playing them against a opponent such as this is the perfect way to get them fully back.
Bayer Leverkusen will not make it easy, for they will seize the opportunity to finally get three points from Bayern for the first time since 2012. Roger Schmidt is shorthanded as well, and will have to rely on his structure in order to come up with much-needed points. It will be another interesting tactical matchup between these two, even though only one team has something at stake.
The Match (79th Meeting)
Location: BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany
Head: Christian Dingert
FC Bayern: 6 W, 2 D, 0 L – 10 YC
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FC Bayern: LWWWL
Bayern Munich Defeat Leverkusen Behind Ribéry Goal
Franck Ribery's 50th minute goal was all that separated the sides as Bayern Munich kept their Bundesliga lead at seven points
Bundesliga: 42 W, 14 D, 15 L
DFB Pokal: 4 W, 0 D, 1 L
Largest Victory: 6-2 (Bundesliga: August 8, 1981, Munich)
Largest Defeat: 2-5 (Bundesliga: March 9, 1997, Leverkusen)
Factoring their injuries, their form, and the matches left on the docket, this is a very awkward position for Guardiola to be in. A year ago he may have rested everyone he could, but even the match against Hoffenheim following their title-clinching victory last season had several key starters on the pitch. The gaffer may be forced to do so again, even though there is a big match at midweek.
At least two players will get a rest though, Sport1 reporting Friday Thomas Müller and Jérôme Boateng "will be preserved" for the Champions League. Both have shouldered much of the workload with all of Bayern's fitness issues. Lucas Görtler and Rico Streider are two candidates to take their place, both left off the reserve team sheet in their match against SpVgg Bayreuth.
Guardiola can take some pressure off of his fullbacks by using similar tactics to the DFB-Pokal quarterfinal match. Bayern elected to go with three at the back until Medhi Benatia got hurt, with Juan Bernat bombing forward and accounting for Leverkusen's flank presence. Rafinha will man center defense again like he did in the semifinals and the preseason, Mitchell Weiser taking the defensive duties on the right flank.
Without Müller and Robert Lewandowski, Guardiola could simply put Mario Götze and Claudio Pizarro in attack by themselves. He has used two strikers in friendlies before, and the interplay the two have could be enough to make up for the lack of a traditional striker.
Part of Guardiola's downfall a year ago was the constant mixing and matching in midfield, but he has found the grouping of Gianluca Gaudino, Sebastian Rode, and Bastian Schweinsteiger as the perfect relief for Xabi Alonso, Philipp Lahm, and Thiago Alcantara. Schweinsteiger still needs the minutes to get back into form, so playing at the weekend will not be a hinderance like it may be for others. The trio might not be able to pass the ball as well, but they will provide the midfield presence Guardiola needs.
Nothing is at stake in this match, but this is still one Bayern would like a good result from going into their tough away leg in the Camp Nou.
Projected Lineup (3-1-4-2):
Mario Götze – Claudio Pizarro
Juan Bernat – Gianluca Gaudino – Sebastian Rode – Mitchell Weiser
Rafinha – Dante – Medhi Benatia
Bench: Manuel Neuer, Javi Martínez, Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcântara, Sinan Kurt, Lucas Görtler
Out/Suspended: David Alaba (knee), Holger Badstuber (thigh), Robert Lewandowski (head), Franck Ribéry (ankle), Arjen Robben (calf), Tom Starke (ankle)
Leverkusen have maintained their trajectory to another Champions League berth, but their form has dropped a touch since the DFB-Pokal quarterfinal. A draw against Köln have dropped them to four place, and they have four matches to guarantee themselves a spot in the Champions League.
Schmidt will have to face Bayern a third time with a very thin defense. Emir Spahić is long gone after his incident three weeks prior, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos is out with the shoulder injury he sustained against Köln. That leaves teenager Tin Jedvaj to line up next to Ömer Toprak, not necessarily the look Schmidt would want to face the Bundesliga Champions with.
That will make Lars Bender even more important than before, for he holds an advantage in holding midfield without many strong attacking options coming at him. He can cut the supply forward for Bayern, taking them on at the point of attack. Simon Rolfes will be there to help of course, but it will leave Leverkusen without the deep playmaker Gonzalo Castro was.
Depending on who Bayern start on the flanks, this could be a fun experience for Karim Bellarabi and Son Heung-Min. Even against Bayern's primary fullbacks, Bellarabi was able to wiggle himself into some chances for Leverkusen. With Kießling as a target man, the two wingers will do their best to exploit the penalty area.
They will have a chance to poach some points from Bayern this time around, having an extra advantage of being at their home ground.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Son Heung-Min – Hakan Çalhanoglu – Karim Bellarabi
Lars Bender – Simon Rolfes
Wendell – Tin Jedvaj – Ömer Toprak – Roberto Hilbert
Bench: Dario Krešić, Sebastian Boenisch, Lukas Boeder, Giulio Donati, Stefan Reinartz, Julian Brandt, Name, Josip Drmic
Out/Suspended: Gonzalo Castro (knee), Robbie Kruse (ankle), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (shoulder)
The end result of the match could boil down to one thing: how seriously Bayern attempt to take on Leverkusen. Should Guardiola try to save some of his players, Leverkusen will have the clear upper hand. That said, Guardiola has bested Schmidt tactically before, and could do so again no matter who is on the field. With the title in hand, Bayern can drop three points and not have anyone question them otherwise.
The Other Action
UEFA Champions League Opponent
FC Schalke 04 vs. VfB Stuttgart (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
VfL Wolfsburg vs. Hannover 96 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
FC Augsburg vs. 1. FC Köln (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
SV Werder Bremen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
SC Freiburg vs. SC Paderborn 07 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
1. FSV Mainz 05 vs. Hamburger SV (Sunday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hertha Berliner SC vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||15||10||5||57||32||+25||55|
|FC Schalke 04||11||9||10||38||34||+4||42|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||11||7||12||45||48||-3||40|
|SV Werder Bremen||10||9||11||46||59||-13||39|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||8||13||9||42||41||+1||37|
|1. FC Köln||8||11||11||30||36||-6||35|
|Hertha Berliner SC||9||7||14||34||46||-12||34|
|SC Paderborn 07||6||10||14||27||58||-31||28|