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Preview: Bayern Munich kicks off the Rückrunde against Leverkusen

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Bayern hope to wrest an away win from an unpleasant opponent.

Borussia Moenchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen - DFB Cup
Leon Bailey knocks Gladbach out of the DFB Pokal, December 20, 2017.
Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich will open the Bundesliga Rückrunde against a very unpleasant opponent: Bayer Leverkusen has not been beaten in its last twelve games, and Bayern's away record against Leverkusen leaves much to be desired: one win in the past eight games in the BayArena - but two losses and five draws. Jupp Heynckes will be at pains to crack Leverkusen's defense with exposing his men to their lethal counters.

The second coming of Sandro Wagner?

Foremost on Bayern Munich fans' mind is the question of whether the man wearing no. 2, Sandro Wagner, will make his second debut for Bayern Munich this Friday. Coach Jupp Heynckes confirmed that he will risk neither Robert Lewandowski nor Mats Hummels in the match. With Lewandowski definitely out, Wagner would appear to be the logical solution, but Heynckes refused to give any guarantees.

He is the first option. Sandro has integrated himself very well, has trained well and with great discipline. But every player needs a certain time to integrate; the process isn't complete in two weeks. I'm still thinking over how we want to play and will decide tomorrow.

It is difficult to imagine Heynckes can come to any other conclusion than to use his new backup striker. Assuming he does, here is how the lineup may look:

With Wagner at striker, Coman should presumably start on the left, despite Franck Ribery's three-goal blitz against SG Sonnenhof Großaspach on Tuesday. Robben returns to action on the right wing, although it is also possible to imagine James Rodriguez taking Müller's spot and Müller playing out wide on the right. Arturo Vidal and Javi Martínez can boss the midfield.

Niklas Süle and Rafinha slide into the back line to replace Hummels and Joshua Kimmich, who probably will not play. Kimmich had just returned to team training after overcoming a severe cold when back pain caused him to miss Bayern's last friendly earlier this week.

Fast, young Leverkusen

Leverkusen have rocketed up to fourth place in the Bundesliga table, flying on the wings of a blisteringly fast-paced group of forwards led by the dynamic Jamaican Leon Bailey. Bailey has become one of the best all-around scorers in the Bundesliga with 6 goals and 5 assists. His teammates Kevin Volland (9 goals, 1 assist) and Julian Brandt (4 goals, 3 assists) are not far behind.

With almost his entire first-choice squad healthy, head coach Heiko Herrlich may have to make the difficult decision of which forward he leaves out.

Herrlich may opt for pace and skill to make the most of his team’s chances, putting Bailey and Brandt behind Volland to stretch out the field and deliver counterattacks rapidly. Youth prodigy Kai Havertz, who has become more of a playmaker this season (1 goal, 5 assists), may come off the bench, as could Karim Bellarabi.

Wendell and Lars Bender can provide service from the wings, while tracking back to help a back three of new Greek acquisition Panagiotis Retsos, Sven Bender, and Jonathan Tah. Leverkusen will press and play defensively and attempt to punish any mistakes with fast-paced counters.

Leverkusen has scored 7 goals this season off counters, while Bayern is the only team besides Hertha and Hoffenheim that has not yet conceded any.