Bayern Munich are a victory away from securing their fourth consecutive title, but for some reason, clinching the title seems a little underwhelming at the moment. Oh, right. The Bavarians are behind in their Champions League tie against Atlético Madrid.
Their European distraction makes facing the Borussia Mönchengladbach at an inopportune time. The Foals have undergone a stretch of inconsistency that has put their Bundesliga comeback in jeopardy, but they still have one of the best attacks in Germany. As one of only two teams to beat Bayern this season, Pep Guardiola is very mindful of his opponent this weekend.
"Gladbach deserves 100 percent of our attention," he said in his press conference. "With Borussia Dortmund, Gladbach is an uncomfortable opponent to have after a game in the Champions League."
Bayern have not clinched a Bundesliga title in front of their home crowd in this most recent run of Bundesliga dominance. However, unless the team wants to overcommit resources to get three points they could grab on another matchday – or Dortmund might charitably give them – Bayern could be satisfied with whatever result they get and prepare the squad for a season-defining second leg.
The Match (103rd Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Referee: Daniel Siebert
Bayern: 3 W, 1 D, 0 L – 3 YC
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Bundesliga: 45 W, 28 D, 22 L
DFB Pokal: 6 W, 1 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 7-1 (Bundesliga: March 24, 1979, Mönchengladbach)
Largest Defeat: 0-5 (Bundesliga: May 18, 1974 Mönchengladbach)
Rotation is a process that should apply in such a situation, but Bayern fans know that is not always Pep Guardiola's style. By the same token, he would be a fool to not freshen his squad before a season-defining game. "New players will play tomorrow," he said. "Of course we won't play with the same XI as Wednesday."
The line-up on Wednesday was supposedly unique for the situation as it is, and it would not be one that would necessarily work against Gladbach. However, Bayern will have to defend the Foals attack similarly to the way they defended Atletico Madrid, trying to push players off the ball before they can get in a dangerous position. The defensive effort would certainly be helped if Jerome Boateng were back helping, but Guardiola is waiting for the German international to decide when his return should be.
Bayern's defense has not been a problem though, especially not at home. Guardiola's most consistent change has come with his attackers, and Bayern's goal scoring efforts have not benefitted from his constant change. He stands behind his decision to drop Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery in midweek, but the changes still resulted in a zero on the scoreboard. Now the right attacking solution against Gladbach is not entirely clear, but that may not matter against the Foals' subpar defense.
Guardiola has warned the fans against expecting a title celebration when they fill the Allianz Arena stands. Based on what is at stake for Gladbach, the expectation should be Bayern celebrate the title some other time.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1):
Franck Ribery – Thiago Alcantara – Mario Götze – Thomas Müller
Juan Bernat – Jerome Boateng – Medhi Benatia – Rafinha
Bench: Sven Ulreich, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Philipp Lahm, Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Arjen Robben (groin)
The resurgent story of Borussia Mönchengladbach seems like ancient history these days. They are still in fifth place after ending the Hinrunde in fourth, but their one-place demise has been pretty painful. Some wins have been impressive, like their 5-0 demolition of Hertha Berlin, but that triumph was quickly followed by a crushing defeat to Ingolstadt.
Their attack has been their greatest strength, but that was difficult to maintain when their best attacker, Raffael, gets injured. Thorgan Hazard and André Hahn have raised their game to try to compensate, but the new combination needed time to adjust – time Gladbach did not necessarily have. That is where their inconsistency stems from, and with a defense in desperate need off experience, an up-and-down attack can hinder a team.
Though Mahmoud Dahoud and Granit Xhaka has stabilized Gladbach's midfield, André Schubert may have better success when they do not have the ball. Both midfielders have been great providers to Gladbach's counter-attacks, and with the individual skill their forwards have, it will not be hard for Gladbach to switch from defense to attack. The foals had great success doing that in Mönchengladbach in December, and may enjoy similar success against a Bayern team already uneasy.
Three points in Munich will go a long way for Gladbach's quest to returning to the Champions League, but they have let top-four opportunities slip through their fingers in recent weeks.
Projected Lineup (3-4-3):
Thorgan Hazard – Raffael – André Hahn
Oscar Wendt – Mahmoud Dahoud – Granit Xhaka – Ibrahima Traore
Håvard Nordtveit – Andreas Christensen – Nico Elvedi
Bench: Christofer Heimeroth, Martin Hinteregger, Julian Korb, Martin Schulz, Patrick Herrmann, Fabian Johnson, Lars Stindl
Out/Suspended: Alvaro Dominguez (back), Tony Jantschke, Nico Schulz (knee), Martin Stranzl
The match will be more tense for Bayern than a potential Bundesliga title clinching match should, and there is no way to avoid the other competition on their mind. By the same token, if Thomas Tuchel can get a result with a team he does not expect to achieve, Guardiola can too. Gladbach will be defending wide, but that could work to Bayern's advantage if they are timing their runs through the middle correctly. Will Bayern celebrate their 26th German league title? It will all depend on how Guardiola deploys his changes.
The Other Action
Augsburg vs. Köln (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)
Hannover vs. Schalke 04 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Hoffenheim vs. FC Ingolstadt 04 (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Mainz 05 vs. Hamburger SV (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
SV Darmstadt 98 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Saturday, 9:30 AM ET)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)
Werder Bremen vs. Stuttgart (Monday, 2:15 PM ET)
UEFA Champions League Opponent
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||16||6||9||50||35||+15||54|
|Hertha Berliner SC||14||7||10||40||38||+2||49|
|1. FSV Mainz 05||13||6||12||43||41||+2||45|
|FC Schalke 04||13||6||12||43||46||-3||45|
|1. FC Köln||10||10||11||36||40||-4||40|
|FC Ingolstadt 04||10||10||11||29||35||-6||40|
|SV Darmstadt 98||8||11||12||35||48||-13||35|
|TSG 1899 Hoffenheim||8||10||13||36||48||-12||34|
|SV Werder Bremen||8||7||16||43||63||-20||31|