It can't happen again, can it? Can Bayern Munich really beat Berlin for the third year in a row and win the Bundesliga title? That is the prize that awaits the Rekordmeister if three points in Berlin comes in conjunction with a Dortmund loss in Stuttgart.
These events are unlikely to unfold, but it is mathematically possible. Dortmund may not be able to handle Liverpool, but they should be able to handle the 15th place Bundesliga team after handling Hertha Berlin in the Olympiastadion. Berlin are not pushover opponent for Bayern either, at least not the one Bayern defeated in the past two years to lift the Meisterschale.
If Dardai's cinderella Hertha want to remain in the Champions League picture, getting three points against Bayern would be the perfect way to ensure that. The Bundesliga frontrunners should therefore expect a very motivated opponent on Saturday, even if their morale has suffered after a cup defeat at midweek.
The Match (58th Meeting)
Location: Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
Referee: Marco Fritz
Bayern: 11 W, 1 D, 0 L – 10 YC, # Y/R, 1 RC
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Television and Streaming:
US: Fox Sports 2, Fox Soccer 2Go, GolTV
Canada: Sportsnet World Now
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1&3 | HD, Sky Go, TeleClub Sport Live
Hertha BSC: LLDLW
Bundesliga: 36 W, 16 D, 9 L
DFB Pokal: 2 W, 0 D, 1 L
Ligapokal: 2 W, 0 D, 1 L
Largest Victory: 6-0 (Bundesliga: March 17, 2012, Berlin)
Largest Defeat: 1-4 (Bundesliga: February 1, 1975, Berlin)
Pep Guardiola has always wanted Bayern to win the Bundesliga as soon as possible, but whether they do or not is not in their control, at least this week. Three points are certainly important, but with a very tough opponent at midweek, the Spanish coach will want to make sure he has all of his stars ready.
The club has already taken certain precautionary measures regarding midweek's fixture. Juan Bernat and Philipp Lahm did not travel to Berlin, and neither did Jerome Boateng, though many expected him to make his return this weekend. The defense will still be one that can handle a counter-attack, but it will not be as strong as it could be, so Bayern will not have the foundation at the back to build attacks from.
Saving players is what Guardiola has done a lot of lately, and it certainly has been the case in attack. Douglas Costa, who started 19 of Bayern's 20 games in the first half of the season before his injury issues, has started consecutive matches once since the March international break, and started Bayern's cup contest against Bremen on the bench. Conversely, Franck Ribery's only break was last week against Schalke, but his constant inclusion was necessary for him to refind his form. Hertha Berlin will be a perfect tune-up for what Bayern are facing at midweek, so Guardiola may want to include both in the squad this time around despite the quick turnaround ind midweek.
Guardiola warned his players – and the media – about complacency last week, but one can understand if that slowly seeps into Bayern's play considering the club is undertaking the two biggest matches of the Guardiola era over the next two weeks.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Franck Ribery – Thomas Muller – Douglas Costa
Xabi Alonso – Arturo Vidal
David Alaba – Medhi Benatia – Joshua Kimmich – Rafinha
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Serdar Tasci, Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Mario Gotze, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Arjen Robben (groin), Sebastian Rode (illness)
Story of the season would be an understatement when describing this Hertha Berlin team. When Pal Dardai took over last season, this team was relegation bound, and they looked to be doomed for a similar struggle after a slow preseason. Dardai and Michael Preetz have gotten a heck of a lot out of this squad though, and Berlin may be heading back to the Champions League for the first time since 1999 because of it.
For all of their success, there is one thing that has become more apparent as the season winds down: Berlin's shallow squad is starting to hamper their progression. Only Cologne has a thinner squad than Dardai's, which is why 2016 has been more of a stuggle than the fall of 2015 was. It certainly doesn't help either that Genki Haraguchi, Per Skjelbred, Vladimir Darida and John Anthony Brooks will not be available for the match, for their absences leaves Dardai with slim pickings in attack and defense.
One thing Dardai does best though is organize his team, something aided by the defensive capabilities of Sebastian Langkamp, Niklas Stark and Fabian Lustenberger. The do struggle to manufacture attacks though, and the offensive responsibilities have fallen slowly on the Bundesliga's latest masked-crusader: Vedad Ibisevic. Counter-attacking will be the likely strategy here, but that only works if Mitchell Weiser and Salomon Kalou are on their game.
Hertha will like their chances after holding Dortmund to a scoreless draw back in February, but since Bayern's attack can hurt teams in several different ways, the players will have a much harder time keeping the defending champions off the board.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Salomon Kalou – Jens Hegeler – Mitchell Weiser
Tolga Cigerci – Fabian Lustenberger
Marvin Plattenhardt – Niklas Stark – Sebastian Langkamp – Peter Pekarik
Bench: Thomas Kraft, Johannes van den Bergh, Alexander Baumjohann, Vladimir Darida, Valentin Stocker, Julian Schieber
Out/Suspended: Sami Allagui (knee), John Anthony Brooks (knee), Genki Haraguchi (illness), Sinan Kurt (muscle issues), Per Skjelbred (illness)
The way this match unfolds will defend on two things: how well Hertha can bounce back from a disappointing midweek result and if Bayern show up to Berlin with a Bundesliga title firmly in their sites. These two factors will unfold in how each team attacks; if there is a lack of ambition from the hosts and an impatient, long-ball heavy attack coming from the visitors, the match will be a grind for both teams. There is plenty of reason for motivation for both teams, and the side with the more inspiring display will probably get the result it desires.
The Other Action
Hamburger SV vs. SV Werder Bremen (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
VfL Wolfsburg vs. FC Augsburg (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
1. FC Köln vs. SV Darmstadt 98 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
FC Ingolstadt 04 vs. Hannover 96 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Schalke 04 vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Hoffenheim (Sunday, 9:30 AM ET)
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Sunday, 11:30 AM ET)
UEFA Champions League Opponent
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||15||6||9||47||33||+14||51|
|Hertha Berliner SC||14||7||9||40||36||+4||49|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||13||6||11||42||39||+3||45|
|FC Schalke 04||13||6||11||41||43||-2||45|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||10||9||11||27||33||-6||39|
|1. FC Köln||9||10||11||32||39||-7||37|
|SV Darmstadt 98||8||11||11||34||44||-10||35|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||8||10||12||35||45||-10||34|
|SV Werder Bremen||8||7||15||42||61||-9||31|