The ball will roll once more at the Allianz Arena this Saturday, as Bayern Munich host their Swabian-Bavarian neighbors, Augsburg. The last time the two met, Bayern pummeled the Fuggerstädter to the tune of 6:0. Bayern would love to start off the last string of games before the winter break with a similar beating.
Bayern face lingering fitness issues
The good news for the Bavarians is that Jupp Heynckes can field a team of players all playing in their natural position. The bad news is that several important starters are still nursing various injuries.
Leading the offense, Robert Lewandowski has fully recovered from the minor muscle injuries that were troubling him before the international break. The Polish national team wisely allowed the striker to skip two friendly matches rather than take any risk. On the wings, Kingsley Coman, back from international duty with France, and a fully rested Arjen Robben will be ready to play. Heynckes estimates that Franck Ribery will rejoin the team in two weeks.
James Rodriguez, who notably returned early from the Colombian national team, is likely to start behind the striker, receiving yet another opportunity to continue his run of good form. At the prematch press conference, Heynckes announced that his competition for the spot, Thomas Müller, still is not ready to make his comeback from a muscle tear that has sidelined the past month.
Heynckes also revealed that Thiago is recovering from a painful knee contusion. He will not be in the squad on Saturday. The other major question marks are Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, both of whom missed their countries’ friendly matches on account of muscle injuries. Heynckes will decide before the game whether they can play.
And finally Juan Bernat is set to make his comeback in the squad. If Alaba is not fit to play, Bernat could potentially start, unless Heynckes opts to put Rafinha at left-back so as to ease Bernat back into action.
Here is how Heynckes might line up the team:
With Thiago definitely out of the lineup, the biggest riddle is who Heynckes chooses as his offensive midfielder. The three options are Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Rudy, and Corentin Tolisso. This may be a good moment for Vidal to return to the starting lineup. It has been three games since he started against Hamburg, twice coming off the bench. Vidal poses a risk defensively, but his grit could stand him well against Augsburg's likely midfielders, Daniel Baier and Michael Gregoritsch.
Augsburg: Operation Mid-Table
Augsburg have managed a respectable mid-table campaign thus far into the season - currently 10th with a +5 goal differential. They would undoubtedly like to stay there. Fighting off the Rekordmeister at the Allianz, however, is a tall order. Coach Manuel Baum most recently tied 1:1 against Leverkusen after a decisive 3:0 victory over bottom-dwelling Bremen.
Baum has stated that “although we know that FC Bayern has an outstanding roster . . . that does not mean that we will act more defensively than recently. We want to find our opportunities.”
Augsburg have lined up in a variety of formations, but more often than not Baum opts for a 4-2-3-1. If Baum holds to his promise to play offensively, they may run out swinging and take the game to the Bavarians. Here is how that might look:
Augsburg have a lot of quality on their squad. Brazilian left-wing Caiuby is Augsburg's best dribbler and a constant threat to shoot. Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason is an outstanding and versatile 9.
The heart of Augsburg's offense is driven by Austrian Michael Gregoritsch, who transferred from Hamburg last summer. He is one of the most dangerous yet least appreciated attacking midfielders in the Bundesliga, with five goals to his name. If he slips past Bayern's defense, he will be trouble.
Augsburg's defense is the real reason, though, why they are floating at mid-table rather than drifting downward. Augsburg have allowed only 11 goals this season, even fewer than Leipzig (13) and Dortmund (14). Bayern will have to be agressive and creative to break them down. And then they will have to beat Marwin Hitz, who has quietly been the best goalie of the Bundesliga this season.