These two teams were neck-and-neck last season, and there was not much distance between them when they played in the fall. A lot has changed since then, Bayern's dominance continuing and Wolfsburg coming off the rails. Their respective forms have returned this fixture into the dullard it used to be.
Both managers will be under a little bit of pressure to get a result though, Dieter Hecking trying to save his job as Pep Guardiola tries to finish his on a high. Hecking has not had the same chemistry in the squad as season's past, which is now made worse with the wide array of injury issues Wolfsburg have. He has yet to find a way to get Wolfsburg out of this rut, and he may not able to if the Wolfsburg board of directors continue to lose patience.
The result means more for Wolfsburg than it does for Bayern, but the German Champions have to keep their form at a high level in order to stay an arm's length away from Dortmund. Wolfsburg are certainly good enough to pilfer a few points at home, but they will need a top-notch performance to beat this Bayern team.
The Match (44th Meeting)
Location: Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg, Germany
Referee: Manuel Gräfe
Bayern: 22 W, 7 D, 7 L – 70 YC, 2 Y/R, 1 RC
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Television and Streaming:
US: Fox Sports 2, Fox Sports GO, Fox Soccer 2Go, GolTV
Canada: Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World Now
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1&2 | HD, Sky Go, TeleClub Sport Live
Bundesliga: 29 W, 4 D, 4 L
DFB Pokal: 5 W, 0 D, 0 L
DFL Supercup: 1 W, 0 L
Largest Victory: 6-1 (Bundesliga: March 8, 2014, Wolfsburg; DFB-Pokal: April 16, 2013, Munich)
Largest Defeat: 1-5 (Bundeliga: April 4, 2009, Wolfsburg)
What do most people forget about Robert Lewandowski's five-goal game in September? Bayern played a horrible game until the striker came on. Juan Bernat had a terrible defensive error to allow a goal, and David Alaba had to move back to the left because of it.
The main lesson from that match is to just keep it simple, something Guardiola does not normally do. That said, with Xabi Alonso needing time and Medhi Benatia back, Bayern may be able to play in a more traditional setup and style. The defense played much better as a regular back four, Javi Martinez providing a more physical presence. That presence could come from Benatia, so long as Guardiola is confident he is fit enough.
Lewandowski is not going to finish off every chance like he did during Oktoberfest, but he may not have to. With the way Arjen Robben is playing, Bayern can be a little more flexible against a ransacked flank presence form Wolfsburg. Franck Ribéry could also get a nod as well, although seeing Douglas Costa ability to move around Vieirinha like he is not even there may still give him the edge.
This is the last of a tough road stretch for Bayern (just one home game in February), but they could cap their tour with a big bang in Wolfsburg.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Douglas Costa – Thiago Alcantara – Thomas Müller – Arjen Robben
Juan Bernat – David Alaba – Medhi Benatia – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Serdar Tasci, Joshua Kimmich, Arturo Vidal, Franck Ribery, Mario Götze, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Jerome Boateng (groin), Javi Martinez (knee), Rafinha (yellow card suspension)
Wolfsburg should have the nickname "the De Bruyne-less city," for the club has not recovered at all from losing their best player from a year ago. Their recent run of form has been very troubling as well, with just two wins in 2016 so far. Dieter Hecking and Klaus Allofs are both under pressure, and Wolfsburg may not have the squad to save their respective jobs.
The one bright spot at the moment is Julian Draxler, but he is a far different presence than De Bruyne was. Though he did not score in his Gelsenkirchen homecoming, he has made real progress as a player. Unfortunately, Max Kruse and André Schürrle are two additions that have not entirely worked out, which leaves Draxler to do a lot of creative work he is not good at. His presence will have to be even bigger with Daniel Caligiuri out injured.
Wolfsburg's defense is the biggest culprit in their demise. Naldo has not had a consistent partner in the second half of the season, and Robin Knoche has shown he still has a lot to learn as a defender. The more worrying thing for Hecking is that Koen Casteels is his goalkeeper, for the talent gap between him and Diego Benaglio – not exactly an endorsement. Still, Wolfsburg are very good in the air, but positioning has lead to their defensive downfall.
Wolfsburg need to start picking up points in order to contend for a European spot, but with the way the club is playing, their points quest is unlikely to start against Bayern.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
André Schürrle – Julian Draxler – Vieirinha
Maximilian Arnold – Luiz Gustavo
Ricardo Rodriguez – Dante – Naldo – Christian Träsch
Bench: Max Grün, Felipe, Robin Knoche, Marcel Schäfer, Ismail Azzaoui, Niklas Bendtner, Leandro Putaro
Out/Suspended: Carlos Ascues (knee), Diego Benaglio (ribs), Bruno Henrique (bronchitis), Daniel Caligiuri (thigh), Bas Dost (foot), Joshua Guilavogui (hip), Sebastian Jung (knee)
Wolfsburg are a side that does not play together as a team, and that is something Bayern are going to take advantage of heavily. With a more dynamic attack this time around, Bayern will be even harder to stop, which is saying a lot in the context of the reverse fixture. Maybe an explosion like September won't happen, but Bayern should be in complete control as Wolfsburg continue to look for answers.
Projected Score: Wolfsburg (0-3) Bayern Munich
The Other Action
Köln vs. Hertha Berlin (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
Hamburger SV vs. Ingolstadt (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Stuttgart vs. Hannover (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Augsburg vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sunday, 9:30 AM ET)
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
Mainz 05 vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke 04 (Sunday, 1:30 PM ET)
UEFA Champions League Opponent
Juventus vs. Inter Milan (Sunday, 2:45 PM ET)
Werder Bremen vs. SV Darmstadt 98 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
|Hertha Berliner SC||10||6||6||30||24||+6||36|
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||10||5||7||31||23||+8||35|
|FC Schalke 04||10||4||8||31||29||+2||34|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||10||3||9||29||28||+1||33|
|1. FC Köln||7||8||7||24||28||-4||29|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||8||5||9||16||23||-7||29|
|SV Darmstadt 98||6||6||10||23||34||-11||24|
|SV Werder Bremen||5||5||12||25||44||-19||20|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||3||9||10||22||33||-11||18|