Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund drag themselves limping from the preseason into the first title match of the season this Saturday as they contest the DFL Supercup, two weeks before the regular Bundesliga season kicks off.
This is the eighth installment of the annual match between the winner of the DFB Pokal and the Bundesliga Champion since the competition was revived in 2010, and it is the fifth time that it features Bayern and Dortmund (each team has beaten the other twice).
Can Bayern wake from its nightmarish summer?
After a preseason that has seen the Bavarians lose five of six friendly matches - finishing last in the Audi Cup hosted at the Allianz Arena itself - a competition that normally amounts to no more than a footnote to the season now resembles a must-win game for coach Carlo Ancelotti.
It’s sometimes good to get a shot across the bow. We’ve now had two or three shots across the bow. That should be the case for the last time, or else it will be a very hard August.
Beyond the dismal results, Bayern’s string of preseason losses has exacted a high price in injuries, adding to the pressure faced by the team. Bayern’s 3:0 loss to Liverpool in the Audi Cup semifinal alone cost three players: James Rodriguez suffered a thigh strain that will sideline him for weeks, and Thiago ominously injured an abdominal muscle. David Alaba took a knock but was able to train individually Thursday. Those injuries come on top of the serious ankle injury that sidelined Juan Bernat.
Jerome Boateng and Arjen Robben are long shots to make the roster, while Manuel Neuer is aiming to return for the season opener against Bayer Leverkusen.
How Bayern could line up
Given the holes in the lineup and the urgency of winning, Joshua Kimmich and Arturo Vidal may have to leap back into the regular squad after returning from extended vacation following the Confederations Cup. Newcomers from Hoffenheim Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Süle may also find themselves thrust into a staring role.
Here is one prediction of how Ancelotti may line up the team:
Alaba (?)Friedl, Hummels, Martinez, Kimmich; Vidal, Rudy; Ribery, Müller, Coman; Lewandowski
With both James and Thiago out, it would be natural to start Thomas Müller in a 4-2-3-1 behind Robert Lewandowski with Kingsley Coman on the right. (Franck Ribery will presumably have recovered from the cut on the ankle he suffered against Inter Milan.)
The lineup could feature a double pivot of Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Rudy: Vidal acting as an aggressive box to box midfielder, and Rudy as defensive midfielder and playmaker, his preferred role. If Rudy is not yet ready to start (he also just joined the team after extended leave), his place could be taken by Corentin Tolisso, although Tolisso has been inconsistent in the preseason.
The back line would be the most familiar collection of names. Since kicker reports that Alaba is not fit to start after all, though, Ancelotti may have to turn to left-back Marco Friedl or even Rafinha. Niklas Süle is another possibility to start, but it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti may favor him over Javi Martinez.
For Bayern, the game will come down to defensive stability and offensive creativity. The team simply cannot afford the defensive lapses that have marred their friendly matches. On offense, Bayern's wings and midfield must provide Lewandowski and Müller with quality service rather than resort to weak, off-target chances from outside.
Dortmund still searching for its form
The alarm bells are not ringing quite as loudly in Dortmund, as a rebooted squad adjusts to life under a new Bosz - coach Peter Bosz, that is, who joined Dortmund from Ajax shortly after Thomas Tuchel was dramatically dismissed.
Dortmund remains a work in progress under Bosz. After a surprising 3:2 loss to Rot-Weiß Essen to kick off the preseason, Dortmund rebounded with victories over the Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan) and AC Milan. That was followed by a draw against Bochum and 0:1 losses to Espanyol Barcelona and Atalanta Bergamo. A 2-1-3 preseason record is far from glamorous, but hardly cause for serious concern.
Injuries are Dortmund's major worry going into the Supercup and the season. A long list has only grown longer with the preseason: Julian Weigl, Raphaël Guerreiro, Marco Reus, and captain Marcel Schmelzer are recovering from long-term injuries. André Schürrle (back pain), Erik Durm (hip), and Emre Mor (thigh) are recent casualties to join them.
One bright spot is Mario Götze, who has made significant progress on his comeback after recovering from a debilitating metabolical disease. Bosz has stated that Götze needs more playing time and is “well on his way.” He is thus likely to start against Bayern.
Dortmund could line up in a 4-3-3 (or 4-1-2-2-1, if you want to get fancy) as follows:
Bürki; Zagadou, Bartra, Sokratis, Piszczek; Götze, Sahin, Castro; Pulisic, Aubameyang, Dembélé
Dortmund will undoubtedly unleash the collective firepower of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembélé, and Christian Pulisic, but Weigl is irreplaceable in the midfield. Götze will have to play at his best alongside Gonzalo Castro and Nuri Sahin to ensure that Dortmund's offense has a chance.
Newcomer Dan-Axel Zagadou (signed from Paris Saint-Germain) will likely be thrown into the fire at left back, but the rest of Dortmund's back line is fit. It will be interesting to see the outcome of a duel between the Frenchmen Kingsley Coman and Zagadou, both of whom began their careers in PSG's youth academy.
[This piece has been updated to reflect the fact that Alaba was ruled out just this morning.]