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Preview: Bayern Munich wraps up the Hinrunde in Stuttgart

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Stuttgart's Chadrac Akolo in action against Hoffenheim. December 13, 2017.
Photo by Simon Hofmann/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

The final matchday of the Hinrunde is upon us: Bayern Munich will travel to VfB Stuttgart to take on the plucky Swabians. Bayern hope by winning to head into the new year with a double-digit lead atop the Bundesliga table. The team currently holds a 9-point lead over second-place Schalke. Stuttgart meanwhile have lost their last three games and fallen to 14th place.

Heynckes: striking the right balance

Bayern’s head coach Jupp Heynckes must choose a lineup that will strike the right balance, gently guiding convalescent players back to full fitness while pushing others to maintain momentum.

Kingsley Coman is one of those crucial players. Franck Ribery has just returned from injury, and Heynckes would prefer to rest the veteran winger. But Coman has been struggling with hip flexor problems and may not be able to play. Heynckes will decide on short notice whether his “extremely sensitive racehorse” is ready to run.

Arjen Roben, unfortunately, will not return until the new year. Heynckes wants the Dutch winger to return pain-free. Left-back Juan Bernat, meanwhile, has fully recovered from his muscular issues and is ready to play. Here is what the rest of the lineup might look like:

Jerome Boateng is likely to make way for a healthy Mats Hummels, while youngster Niklas Süle shifts over to his spot on the right. Joshua Kimmich will return to the starting lineup at right-back. David Alaba should be able to continue at left-back, but it is possible that Heynckes rotates him out for Bernat.

In the midfield, Javi Martinez should return to his customary position ahead of the center-backs, while Arturo Vidal may receive a second chance, after he was subbed out after the first half on Wednesday. Up front, James Rodriguez and Thomas Müller will work their dark magic behind Robert Lewandowski.

VfB Stuttgart hopes to prevent not-so-sweet 16th straight loss to Bayern

Where to begin ... ah, here is a good place that puts everything into immediate perspective: VfB — finally relegated last season after regularly flirting with it, but earned immediate promotion — has lost 15 straight matches to Bayern in all competitions, including a 3-2 loss in the 2013 DFB-Pokal final that clinched the treble for the Bavarians.

Bayern has scored at least 2 goals in 14 of its last 15 matches against Stuttgart in all competitions. The Swabians are a goal-challenged team, so they can not afford to chase a goal most matches, let alone the multiple goals full-flying Bayern is capable of scoring against them.

Here is the likely VfB lineup that will try and slow down Bayern (yes, Stuttgart really needs to break out the black kits)

Versatile Benjamin Pavard could start as a right wing-back again in this 3-4-2-1, and his play has been a real bright spot for VfB and helped the 21-year-old earn his first senior caps for France in November. Chadrac Akolo (rib injury) is out, which means Berkay Özcan and Josip Brekalo could start in attacking midfield again.

Anastasios Donis is out with a muscle injury, so look for Takuma Asano to lead the line for Stuttgart, which has only scored 13 goals in 16 Budesliga matches this season. Captain and midfielder Christian Gentner and former Bayern defender Holger Badstuber give VfB some veteran spine in the center of midfield and defense.

VfB has been in good home form this season (5-1-1 at Mercedes-Benz Arena), including a win over Borussia Dortmund.