After dispatching Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 last week, Bayern Munich travel to the city on the Weser to play their first away game of the season. Bayern will look to add another three points to their tally, while Werder Bremen - who last beat Bayern in their home stadium eleven years ago - will try to pull off a miracle.
Bayern almost fully armed and operational
What a difference a week makes: Carlo Ancelotti now enjoys what Germans call “Die Qual der Wahl” (“the torture of choice”) since a number of players have been cleared to play. Some of these choices, of course, are obvious: Manuel Neuer is anticipated to celebrate his comeback in Bremen, as no. 2 Sven Ulreich returns to his wonted place on the bench. Neuer fractured his foot in a forgettable game last April.
Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara have also recently rejoined team training. Their availability instantly complicates Carlo Ancelotti’s plans. With Jerome Boateng on the verge of returning to full fitness, but not yet ready, Ancelotti's first decision will be whether Javi might push Niklas Süle out of the lineup after his impressive performance against Leverkusen.
Thiago is an even bigger question. Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso have been nothing short of spectacular so far - Rudy looks like a refreshingly nimble Xabi Alonso, and Tolisso dominated in his Bundesliga debut. If we presume Arturo Vidal starts (as he should), would Ancelotti bench Tolisso or Rudy for Thiago?
The last piece of the puzzle is Arjen Robben, who is probably ready to return to the starting lineup. If Robbery make up the wings again, Ancelotti will have to decide what to do with Thomas Müller: play him behind Robert Lewandowski and go with a double pivot or bench him.
Here is one way Ancelotti may lineup the team if Robben starts. I call it “The best of last season with a dash of Süle”:
Neuer; Alaba, Hummels, Süle, Kimmich; Thiago, Vidal; Ribery, Müller, Robben; Lewandowski
Bremen defended well but was largely ineffective against Hoffenheim last week, so a 4-2-3-1 may be the most promising option to use against them. If, though, Ancelotti opts to strangle them in the midfield with a 4-3-3, the lineup might look like this:
Neuer; Alaba, Hummels, Süle, Kimmich; Vidal, Rudy, Thiago; Ribery, Lewandowski, Robben.
I call this lineup, “Last season's Müller-less 'meh' (ft Rudy Alonso).”
Bremen: Anything but last season all over again
Last year, Bremen played so badly early on that they looked destined for relegation. After head coach Viktor Skrypnyk was fired and replaced by Alexander Nouri, though, the team underwent a shocking metamorphosis, turning into something of a late-season Bundesliga powerhouse. Another nightmare start, though, is what Bremen wants to avoid. By losing to Hoffenheim 0-1 before playing Bayern, Bremen may have already dug itself a hole.
Bremen’s lineup is solid but unspectacular. Their defense, anchored by the eloquent Lamine Sané, played compactly against Hoffenheim and conceded the only goal of the game off an unfortunate deflection. Bremen’s hopes rest primarily on their offense, fronted by Max Kruse and Fin Bartels. Kruse in particular had a incredible run of form late last season and remains Bremen’s primary threat.
Behind Kruse, Bremen rely heavily on attacking midfielder and dead-ball specialist Thomas Delaney. Theodor Gebre-Selassie - a Czech with an Ethiopian name - is an important threat at right wing-back. Bremen might line up as follows:
Pavlenka; Veljkovic, Sané, Bauer; Augustinsson, Delaney, Eggestein, Gondorf, Gebre-Selassie; Kruse, Bartels
Bremen remain for now without their captain Zlatko Junusovic, who has been sidelined by an inflammation of the Achilles tendon.
Bremen might dream of victory, but their most realistic hope is a scoreless draw. They are far and away the biggest underdogs of the second match day.