The opening festivities for the new Bundesliga season are now behind Bayern Munich. Match Day 2 is where the season will really kick into gear for the Rekordmeister as they travel to Hoffenheim in their first away fixture.
The second round of the Bundesliga was not a walk in the park the last two years. In Guardiola's first season, the treble champions struggled to muster more than an early Mario Mandžukić goal against Eintracht Frankfurt. Last season, Schalke 04 snagged a late equalizer to limit the double champions to just a point in Veltins Arena. Now they travel to Hoffenheim, where one goal or less has decided each match in the fixture.
Bayern have yet to lose to Hoffenheim though, despite their recent rise up the Bundesliga table. The Kraichgauer are pretty vulnerable as well, having relinquished perhaps their best ever player, Roberto Firmino, to Liverpool. Reloaded with youth and exuberance, Bayern are poised to put in their best performance in Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
The Match (14th Meeting)
Location: Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Sinsheim, Germany
Head: Tobias Stieler
FC Bayern: 7 W, 0 D, 0 L – 7 YC
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Television and Streaming:
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FC Bayern: WWL
Bundesliga: 10 W, 4 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 7-1 (Bundesliga: March 10, 2012, Munich)
Bayern opened the season with a cracking performance, and yet the squad has sort of an uncertain feel to it. Several of the attacking players are in form, yet there is still not a consistent plan of attack to supply them with chances.
The fluidity of Bayern's midfield situation is probably the main culprit. Pep Guardiola has still not settled on a way to use each of the different midfield weapons that he has, while constantly reminding the media he can only use 18 players at a time. What this match could unveil is what Guardiola sees as his best XI at the moment, and how he wants that best XI to play.
Still, even with a best XI, at some point he is going to have to give some of these guys a chance. Abendzeitung suggest he wants Xabi Alonso – due to turn 34 at the end of November – to play less. The indications, and ramifications, of such a plan have yet to reveal themselves, and that leaves players like Sebastian Rode and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg on the outside looking in. Guardiola has never picked a team sheet based on the playing demands of others, but how he uses his team on Saturday could set certain wheels – and possibly transfers – into motion.
As far as Guardiola's structure, the gaffer seems pretty set with four defenders at the moment, using his utility fullbacks in their "natural" positions. He may not have a choice, though, for Rafinha is afflicted with ankle injury. The great attribute Bayern now has defensively is not just having ball-winning players in higher positions, but putting ball-winning players in the right position. That trait makes aerial-commanders like Mehdi Benatia more of a luxury, but still necessary against strong set piece players like Niklas Süle.
Bayern still need to fire up their furnace as the season picks up speed, and their first away fixture is a good early litmus test for what the temperature of the squad currently is.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Douglas Costa – Arturo Vidal – Thomas Müller – Arjen Robben
David Alaba – Medhi Benatia – Jérôme Boateng – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Dante, Juan Bernat, Joshua Kimmich, Sebastian Rode, Thiago Alcantara, Mario Götze
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (thigh), Jan Kirchhoff (ankle), Javi Martínez (knee), Franck Ribéry (ankle)
Seven weeks ago Roberto Firmino parted ways with Hoffenheim to take on a new mid table challenge in England, and even now Hoffenheim's narrative revolves around him. This is despite the homecoming of former Germany forward Kevin Kuranyi, or the continuous sprouting of current Germany forward Kevin Volland.
Why is the narrative stuck in Firmino-mode? Because outside of one Stephen Zuber counterattack, Bayer Leverkusen completely outplayed Hoffenheim in the opening match of their season. However, Zuber is a player Hoffenheim are very bullish about, and it may be why Hoffenheim relinquished Roberto Firmino in the first place.
As much as Hoffenheim tries to change though, they cannot get away from persistent problems. Their defense is still a major weakness, one they addressed in the transfer window. The acquisition of Fabian Schär looks like a nice move on paper, but he and Niklas Süle do not have the rapport for the transfer to make a difference quite yet. Having Ermin Bičakčić and Tobias Strobl in reserve is a plus, but depth is not an advantage on Match Day 2.
Hoffenheim could be a strong mid table team by season's end. Right now there are too many new pieces for Markus Gisdol to manufacture results at the moment.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Kevin Volland – Stephen Zuber – Jonathan Schmid
Eugen Polanski – Pirmin Schwegler
Kim Jin-Su – Fabian Schär – Niklas Süle – Pavel Kaderabek
Bench: Jens Grahl, Ermin Bičakčić, Tobias Strobl, Jeremy Toljan, Nadiem Amiri, Mark Uth, Ádam Szalai
Out/Suspended: Jiloan Hamad (knee), Kai Herding (knee)
Like previous trips to Sinsheim, Hoffenheim is going to give Bayern a hard time. The Kraichgauer are a team that goes at opponents, but that initiative did not work very well in their meetings last season with the Rekordmeister. Bayern's biggest advantage will come on the flanks, which is good news for a diagonal-running player like Thomas Müller. Though Bayern's defense has been liberal, the adjusting Hoffenheim attack still will not stand much of a chance.
The Other Action
Hertha Berliner SC vs. SV Werder Bremen (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
FC Schalke 04 vs. SV Darmstadt 98 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. FC Augsburg (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hannover 96 vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hamburger SV vs. VfB Stuttgart (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)
FC Ingolstadt 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund (Sunday, 9:30 AM ET)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. 1. FC Mainz 05 (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
|FC Schalke 04||1||0||0||3||0||+3||3|
|1. FC Köln||1||0||0||3||1||+2||3|
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||1||0||0||2||1||+1||3|
|Hertha Berliner SC||1||0||0||1||0||+1||3|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||1||0||0||1||0||+1||3|
|SV Darmstadt 98||0||1||0||2||2||0||1|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||0||0||1||1||2||-1||0|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||0||0||1||0||1||-1||0|
|SV Werder Bremen||0||0||1||0||3||-3||0|