The drama and doubts that plagued Bayern Munich before the international break now seem like a distant memory, but Bayern Munich has not yet proved anything after luring club legend Jupp Heynckes from retirement to succeed Carlo Ancelotti. A show of force - and discipline - will be the club’s task on Saturday when they host SC Freiburg at the Allianz. Freiburg’s coach, the wily Christian Streich, will have his hands full preventing a blowout.
Bayern in an embarrassment of midfielders
Heynckes has nearly a fully fit roster with which to construct his ideal lineup. Only Juan Bernat, Franck Ribery, and Manuel Neuer are unavailable long-term - the loss of Neuer naturally the most serious. Over the short term, Arturo Vidal and James Rodriguez have been ruled out. Vidal has a slight muscular issue, and James just returned from South America.
On the face of it, the defense seems to select itself: David Alaba is fit again, so we should expect him and Joshua Kimmich to hold down left- and right-back. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are the obvious first choices at center-back.
How the rest of the lineup shapes up is somewhat less obvious. Heynckes stated at the pre-game press conference that he favors a 4-3-3, and he emphasized Bayern's need for defensive stability. That throws the familiar 4-2-3-1 and all our other expectations out the window.
Javi Martinez's return to the midfield seems imminent. Speaking about him, Heynckes declared that while Javi must get used to playing as defensive midfielder again, “it's no secret that I'd like to stabilize the defense, and with such a player I can do that better." Javi thus seems likely to start, pushing Rudy out of the picture despite his promising performances this season. Where does that leave the rest of the lineup?
Ulreich; Alaba, Hummels, Boateng, Kimmich; Thiago, Martinez, Tolisso; Coman, Lewandowski, Müller
On offense, Kingsley Coman seems to be the best candidate to take Franck Ribery’s place on the left wing. With just two forward roles left, and Lewandowski guaranteed to start, Heynckes may play Thomas Müller on the right in a flexible role, sparing Arjen Robben and James Rodriguez. Either of them could come on as a supersub. How Heynckes balances these players' playing time will be a major tactical theme going forward.
That leaves two positions in the midfield to the left and right of Javi. With Vidal sidelined, Thiago is most likely to start as the advanced part of Bayern’s three-man midfield on the left. That leaves Tolisso, the most Vidal-like player left standing, to play alongside Thiago to support Lewandowski and Müller.
Provided that Heynckes’s plan of stabilizing the defense succeeds, this team should handily dispatch Freiburg.
Freiburg have their work cut out for them
It’s bad enough that Freiburg are coming to the Allianz precisely when Bayern have everything to prove. After finishing respectably in mid-table last season, Freiburg are struggling. Their W-D-L record stands at 1-4-2. They are not winning but surviving, treading water above the relegation zone in 15th place.
Freiburg beat Hoffenheim 3-2 before the international break, but they normally struggle to score goals. They have managed just 5 this season, Florian Niederlechner leading the team with 2. (Robert Lewandowski, meanwhile, has scored 8.) The loss of Maximilian Philipp to Dortmund and Vincenzo Grifo to Mönchengladbach during the summer transfer window all but crippled an already weak offensive team.
Freiburg even lost 1-2 to Strasbourg in their latest friendly during this past international break. If Bremen and Köln were not even worse, they would already be facing a relegation battle.
Here is how Freiburg might line up:
Schwolow; Söyüncü, Schuster, Lienhart; Günter, Höfler, Frantz, Stenzel; Terrazino, Haberer, Niederlechner
Against Bayern, Freiburg will play very defensively in some form of a 3-4-3, probably falling back into a 5-4-1 when pressed. Janik Haberer will play forward as solitary striker, supported especially by Niederlecher on the right. They will be the ones to watch on any counters.
If Bayern’s defense remains compact, though, Freiburg will struggle to get anywhere near Sven Ulreich.