A few matches are now under their belt, so Bayern Munich are at the point in the year where the ball really starts rolling. The goal they conceded against Augsburg was the first goal they allowed in September in three years, collecting eight clean sheets each of the last two seasons.
With a Champions League victory at midweek and a big clash against Wolfsburg next week, the Rekordmeister can afford to take newly promoted Darmstadt in stride, right? Wrong! Darmstadt is coming off perhaps their biggest road victory in club victory against Bayer Leverkusen, and have kept pace with each of their opponents through the first four match days.
Darmstadt has collected six points with a league-worst average 35.5 percent possession this season, and blockading teams have yet to phase Bayern so far this season. A lot of the action will happen on one side of the field, and manager Dirk Schuster will have a tough time keeping up with Pep Guardiola's swarming tactics.
The Match (5th Meeting)
Location: Merck-Stadion, Darmstadt, Germany
Head: Felix Zwayer
FC Bayern: 15 W, 2 D, 2 L – 24 YC
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Bundesliga: 3 W, 1 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 4-1 (Bundesliga: January 23, 1981, Munich)
Guardiola must be of two minds for this match. On the one hand, Bayern want to continue their good run of form in all competition, thus continuing to use his top players to get results. On the other, he will want to use the built-up squad depth to ensure a collapse in April does not happen again.
Oddly enough, the one player who allows both things to happen simultaneously is Mario Gotze. In the preseason, Götze's presence as the center forward allowed Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Sebastian Rode to run into the box. Guardiola then placed the class of Bayern squad on the edges, allowing players like Douglas Costa and Philipp Lahm to provide top-notch service.
That setup only came with three at the back, but with Darmstadt playing with two banks of four so far this season, three defenders is really all Bayern need. Joshua Kimmich could be the tip of the diamond defense if needed, but Guardiola will want to throw as many midfielders as he can into this setup.
If Guardiola were to use Götze instead of Lewandowski, then box-to-box players will be necessary in midfield in order for the system to work. That may mean Thiago is left out of such a team, but his presence in the penalty area so far in 2015 has been phenomenal. Because of his poaching ability, Lewandowski's inclusion would probably come with a very different approach, but the nature of this match allows for the possibility Lewandowski or Thomas Müller are left out of the team.
This may not be a match where Bayern can ease their foot off the gas pedal, but it is one where Guardiola will be able to get very creative with his squad depth.
Projected Lineup (3-5-2):
Mario Götze – Thomas Müller
Douglas Costa – Thiago Alcantara – Joshua Kimmich – Sebastian Rode – Philipp Lahm
David Alaba – Jérôme Boateng – Rafinha
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Javi Martínez, Juan Bernat, Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal, Kingsley Coman, Robert Lewandowski
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (thigh), Medhi Benatia (thigh), Jan Kirchhoff (ankle), Franck Ribéry (ankle), Arjen Robben (calf)
People may be raving about Bournemouth and their ascension into the Barclays Premier League, but Darmstadt's rise is just as much of a fairy tail. With two consecutive promotions, their squad plans had to change drastically over recent months.
Their primary goal is to of course do enough to survive the relegation battle, one that came down to the final day of last season. One can see that in their approach, Schuster setting his side up to defend while having attacking players shoulder much of the burden going forward.
Though they only have four goals, their sturdy shape has allowed them to go unbeaten in their first three matches. That record comes against teams in the top half of the table a year ago as well, making it look more legitimate. The issues come when Darmstadt starts to lose control of the penalty area, which can lead to own goals and easy finishes in the box.
They will surely be a tough team to break down, but that is the only way Schuster's team will overachieve and get a result against the defending champions.
Projected Lineup (4-4-1-1):
Konstantin Rausch – Marcel Heller – Jerome Gondorf – Peter Niemeyer
Fabian Holland – Luca Caldirola – Aytac Sulu – György Garics
Bench: Lukasz Zaluska, Junior Diaz, Florian Jungwirth, Tobais Kempke, Mario Vrančić, Marco Sailer, Sandro Wagner
Out/Suspended: Patrick Platins (thigh), Yannick Stark (ankle)
Even if Guardiola makes a switch or two, Bayern will pressure Darmstadt's penalty area relentlessly. The question becomes if Darmstadt turns into a diamond or if they turn into dust. Even without Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben, Bayern have the width to stretch the play out, which will provide the late runs of Müller and Rode with fruitful chances. Darmstadt are going to be hard to crack, but Bayern will bring the right vise to do so.
Projected Score: SV Darmstadt 98 (0-2) Bayern Munich
The Other Action
1. FSV Mainz 05 vs. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
SV Werder Bremen vs. FC Ingoldstadt 04 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
1. FC Köln vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hamburger SV vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
VfB Stuttgart vs. FC Schalke 04 (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)
FC Augsburg vs. Hannover 96 (Sunday, 9:30 AM ET)
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
UEFA Champions League Opponent
Chelsea vs. Arsenal (Saturday, 7:45 AM ET)
Hajduk Split vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Saturday, 11:00 AM ET)
Xanthi vs. Olympiacos (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET)
VfL Wolfsburg vs. Hertha Berliner SC (Saturday, 9:30 ET)
|FC Schalke 04||2||1||1||6||5||+1||7|
|SV Werder Bremen||2||1||1||6||6||0||7|
|Hertha Berliner SC||2||1||1||5||5||0||7|
|1. FC Köln||2||1||1||8||9||-1||7|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||2||1||1||2||4||-2||7|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||2||0||2||6||4||+2||6|
|SV Darmstadt 98||1||3||0||4||3||+1||6|
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||2||0||2||3||5||-2||6|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||0||1||3||3||7||-4||1|