The match before a season-defining match is one of two things: a trap game or a tune-up game. Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen fell into the Darmstadt trap before their European fixtures, but Bayern Munich are unlikely to do the same.
The German champions will be returning home for the first time in four weeks, the only home game they will play in February. As happy as their fans will be to see them, they will be even happier to play for their fans. They will even be able to field a fitter squad after two months of unfilled team sheets.
Darmstadt will also not be able to field the team Dirk Schuster probably wants to with five players serving yellow card suspensions. That presents more of a tune-up scenario for Bayern, who have several players who could use a match off. It is a tune-up game Bayern have been itching to get for several weeks, and the fixture list no plays right into their favor.
The Match (7th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: Michael Weiner
Bayern: 36 W, 6 D, 1 L – 86 YC, 1 Y/R, 1 RC
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming:
US: Fox Soccer Plus, GolTV, Fox Soccer 2Go
Canada: Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World Now
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1 & 3 | HD, Sky Go, TeleClub Sport Live
Bundesliga & DFB-Pokal
Bundesliga & DFB-Pokal
Bundesliga: 4 W, 1 D, 0 L
DFB Pokal: 1 W, 0 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 4-1 (Bundesliga: January 23, 1981, Munich)
2016 has not had a lot of positives regarding the squad Pep Guardiola has had to work with. The lack of defensive depth has required him to move players out of position to keep goals off the scoresheet, and his has not completely worked out how all of his attacking pieces fit together. Having an opponent like Darmstadt will be the perfect opportunity to try and put pieces in the right place, even though the way Darmstadt will defend is going to be different than the way Juventus will.
One situation Guardiola will have to shake out is the central presence behind Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski. Having Douglas Costa, Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal present him with three very different options, and the one Guardiola picks could show how he sees his best team. With the below-average tackling skills Darmstadt offers in midfield, the ultimate choice will be someone quick with their feet. The fact Douglas has played in every match in 2016 may factor in as well, though Guardiola does not rotate the at the times he logically should.
The defense will be easier to construct, even if the center back core has not returned to full fitness. With Darmstadt's limited attacking options, Bayern will push their defenders higher up the field as it is. The issue Bayern may have is in the air, something Darmstadt excel at, but the pace and tackling abilities of Bayern's options may negate that aerial disadvantage.
Bayern still have a lot of work to do in order to win the title, but they may rest easier knowing the odds of winning this match are heavily in their favor.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Kingsley Coman – Thiago Alcantara – Thomas Müller – Arjen Robben
Juan Bernat – David Alaba – Joshua Kimmich – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Tom Starke, Serdar Tasci, Rafinha, Sebastian Rode, Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa, Mario Götze
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Jerome Boateng (groin), Javi Martinez (knee), Sven Ulreich
With the lowest wage budget in the Bundesliga, Darmstadt have to field a lot of players that probably belong in the second division. However, Schuster has found a way to make it work, his team at arms length of the relegation zone despite an inconsistent run of results. They may come up short against the big teams, but they usually defeat the opponents they are expected to defeat.
Bayern fall into the "coming up short" category for sure, and with three of their best players on yellow card suspensions – Patrick Niemeyer, Marcel Heller, Aytac Sulu – they will have a hard time staying in the match. The best Schuster can do is what he did in Darmstadt's cup game in December: close down as many passing lanes as possible and force Bayern to take chances outside the penalty area.
He has the defenders to accomplish this task, but the attack is going to suffer greatly as a result. Heller was the player who drove them forward as well, so either Sandro Wagner holds up the ball or they have to hope one of their wide midfielders can track down a long ball from defense. Corner kicks and aerial duels will be the only matchup advantage they have, but is a very strong one they could exploit.
Though they have remained outside of the relegation zone all season, Darmstadt will have a tough task staying up, and that fight will continue in their trip to Munich.
Projected Lineup (4-4-1-1):
Tobias Kempe – Florian Jungwirth – Mario Vrancic – Sandro Sirigu
Luca Caldirola – Slobodan Rajković – Junior Diaz – György Garics
Bench: Patrick Platins, Michael Stegmayer, Benjamin Gorka, Fabian Holland, Mario Sailer, Matthis Stroh-Engel, Felix Platte
Out/Suspended: Jerome Gondorf (yellow card suspension), Marcel Heller (yellow card suspension), Patrick Niemeyer (yellow card suspension), Konstantin Raush (yellow card suspension), Aytac Sulu (yellow card suspension)
The last time Bayern hosted Darmstadt this season, the match was incredibly painful and slow. This match could be the same way, but Bayern's plethora of players with strong on-the-ball skills could make a big difference. All it will take is for Robben or Coman to pull a defender out of position and Bayern will be in business. Bayern's match in Augsburg was a solid result they needed, and another before their Champions League campaign resumes would only do good.
Projected Score: Bayern Munich (4-1) Darmstadt
The Other Action
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Hamburger SV (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Köln (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hertha Berlin vs. Wolfsburg (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hoffenheim vs. Mainz 05 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Dortmund (Sunday, 9:30 PM ET)
Schalke 04 vs. Stuttgart (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
Hannover vs. Augsburg (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
UEFA Champions League Opponent
Ingolstadt vs. Werder Bremen (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||10||5||6||31||22||+9||35|
|Hertha Berliner SC||10||5||6||29||23||+6||35|
|FC Schalke 04||10||3||8||30||28||+2||33|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||10||3||8||27||25||+2||33|
|1. FC Köln||7||8||6||24||27||-3||29|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||7||5||9||14||23||-9||26|
|SV Darmstadt 98||6||6||9||22||31||-9||24|
|SV Werder Bremen||5||5||11||25||42||-17||20|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||2||9||10||19||31||-12||15|