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Preview: Bayern Munich faces the latest version of Schalke

Another year, another coach and another captain.

Bayern Muenchen v FC Schalke 04 - Bundesliga Photo by Lennart Preiss/Bongarts/Getty Images

After thrashing Mainz, Bayern now travel to the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen to take on the latest incarnation of Schalke 04 after a disappointing finish last season. Schalke are currently sitting in fourth place, but would like to make it first.

Koan Neuer for Bayern

Bayern looked formidable against Mainz, but Carlo Ancelotti will need to rotate the lineup yet again, partly of necessity. Juan Bernat and David Alaba are still nursing their respective injuries, leaving Rafinha at left-back. Ancelotti hopes that Alaba may return in time for Bayern’s clash with Paris Sainte-Germain. Also, Arjen Robben will not be available: he has caught the flu.

Then there is the news about Manuel Neuer, who will be examined tomorrow to determine precisely the nature of the injury he suffered to his left foot. Welcome back, Sven Ulreich.

Ancelotti will spare other players as a precaution. After celebrating his long-anticipated comeback against Mainz, Jerome Boateng is likely to be rested, while Mats Hummels probably returns alongside Javi Martinez. Ribery is also expected to start, having sat out the match on Saturday. Rudy also is fresh and would be valuable in holding the midfield against Schalke.

Of course, James is a major question mark. At the press conference on Monday, Ancelotti said that James is not at 100%, but is available to play.

Here’s how Bayern might line up in a 4-2-3-1:

Ulreich; Rafinha, Hummels, Martinez, Kimmich; Vidal, Rudy; Ribery, Thiago, Müller; Lewandowski

Müller would play wide and drift inside to confuse Schalke's defense, while Thiago and Vidal orchestrate Bayern's attack from the middle, with Rudy lying deep to hold the midfield against Schalke's pressing. If Ancelotti starts James, though, Rudy will likely make way for a double-pivot of Thiago and Vidal. Kingsley Coman is also an option on the right wing.

Schalke in striking distance of first place

It still is hard to know just who this Schalke team really is. The team fired Markus Weinzierl after last season and demoted long-time captain Benedikt Höwedes, who left for Juventus Turin. Schalke opened the season by beating Leipzig 2-0, but then fell to newly promoted Hannover 1-0. Schalke then beat both Stuttgart (3-1) and Bremen (2-1) and now are in striking distance of first place.

New coach Domenico Tedesco tends to line them up in a fluid 3-4-3, and both their forwards and midfielders are fairly dangerous (five different players have scored Schalke’s six goals so far). Their primary striker, Guido Burgstaller has yet to warm up, though, and it remains to be seen whether this team will continue to produce goals at a healthy pace.

Tedesco has his pick of players with the exception of Austrian midfielder Alessandro Schöpf, who is dealing with back pain. Tedesco noted at the pregame press conference that Hoffenheim used 5-3-2 system against Bayern, but he also claims that Schalke “does not want to crouch and hide.” He believes Schalke must be bold and play “ball-possession football.” Whether they can do it is another matter.

Tedesco will probably stick to his 3-4-3, but expect it to resemble a 5-3-2 in defensive situations:

Fährmann; Nastasic, Naldo, Kehrer; Oczipka, Goretzka, Bentaleb, Caligiuri; Konoplyanka, Burgstaller, Harit

Schalke's forwards tend to hover around the halfway line, with Burgstaller somewhat advanced. What makes Schalke particularly troublesome, though, is the offensive potential of both Goretzka and Bentaleb, who may press forward and participate in attacks given the opportunity.

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