Two things are clear about Bayern Munich’s upcoming match in Wolfsburg: First, Jupp Heynckes will rotate the team significantly. Second, that team will meet an eerie silence in the green and white VW Arena for nearly the first twenty minutes of the game—excepting, of course, the vociferous Bayern away block.
After negotiations between local labor unions and Volkswagen recently collapsed, dozens of Wolfsburg fan clubs have announced an “atmosphere boycott” (Stimmungsboykott) in solidarity with striking automobile workers—tens of thousands of Volkswagen workers went on strike in Wolfsburg early this month. The home fans have announced they will not take their seats or cheer until 19 minutes and 45 seconds have passed, recalling the club’s founding in 1945.
The time to rotate is now
With the entire squad barring Manuel Neuer now healthy, Jupp Heynckes again faces the unpleasant decision of choosing who will watch the game from the stands. Fortunately for the victims last weekend—Sebastian Rudy and Juan Bernat—the odds that they may play against Wolfsburg are significantly better.
The first leg of Bayern Munich’s Champions League round-of-16 tie with Beşiktaş will take place in Munich this Tuesday. Cushioned in the Bundesliga by a massive 18 point lead, Bayern will concentrate all its energy on demolishing its Champions League opponents. Where possible, Heyckes will spare his starters. The coming match against Wolfsburg thus will give us insight into how Heynckes views his best starting XI going forward.
Here is the “B team” that Heynckes may field in Wolfsburg:
First and foremost, Thiago Alcantara is at long last ready to make his comeback from the thigh injury that derailed his season in November. He is almost guaranteed to start. Where exactly he starts is somewhat of an open question, but in this scenario he plays the part of the 10 ahead of a midfield of Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso, both of whom—especially Rudy—are in need of playing time.
Arturo Vidal is conveniently suspended for collecting 5 yellow cards.
On the wings, Heynckes may field Robben on the right, as usual, but Kingsley Coman on the left. Heynckes has recently shown a preference for starting Franck Ribery in important matches, including last week’s clash with Schalke. It of course is possible that Coman starts alongside Ribery on the right flank, allowing Robben to rest up instead.
At striker, Sandro Wagner should be permitted to show what he can do against Wolfsburg’s battered and bruised defense. Lewandowski undoubtedly will start on Tuesday.
And finally, Heynckes has the luxury of sparing 3/4 of his starting defense for quality replacements in Bernat, Niklas Süle, and Rafinha. Süle seems more likely to replace Jerome Boateng, whose fitness has been very finicky lately, while Mats Hummels is normally healthy (when he doesn't have a cold).
Bayern will presumably shift between a 4-1-4-1 formation and a more conventional 4-3-3, depending on how Thiago interprets his position.
Martin Schmidt's dilemma
Martin Schmidt has been getting results against Bayern for years, most recently a 2:2 draw after falling behind 2:0 to Carlo Ancelotti in his final Bundesliga game. But Schmidt's number may finally be up.
Besides the Wolfsburg fans' angry protest of Volkswagen and their team's constant flirtation with relegation since the departure of Kevin De Bruyne, Wolfsburg is beset by injuries. Surviving Bayern with a draw would be immense; a win, a miracle.
Schmidt is likely to arrange his team around his favorite playmaker from his Mainz days, Yunus Malli rather than Daniel Didavi. Divock Origi will presumably stand at the ready at striker, supported by Admir Mehmedi and Renato Steffen in the absence of Jakub Blaszcykowski. Maximilian Arnold and Josuha Guilavogui fill out the midfield.
On the backline, Gian-Luca Itter may receive a start ahead of William. Itter completely cowed Robben in Wolfsburg’s first encounter with Bayern in the Hinrunde. Opposite him, since Paul Verhaegh is probably unavailable on account of sickness, Sebastian Jung may start.
Schmidt is emblematic of the Bundesliga's conviction in attacking soccer. He normally lines his team up in a 4-3-3 and is willing to take risks. With nothing to lose by being beaten by Bayern, Schmidt will probably order his team to press Bayern ferociously in the opening minutes and play fast on the counter thereafter, committing numbers forward in the hope of scoring.
Update: no Coman or James
Per Bild, Kingsley Coman and James Rodriguez did not travel with the team to Wolfsburg ahead of the match. Kingsley Coman has a slight cold, and James is being rested ahead of Bayern’s clash with Beşiktaş.
We had a discussion in which I clarified the situation. On the one hand, it’s a luxury problem; on the other, it’s up to the trainer to manage it. I talk with the players I leave out. It can happen to anyone; no one is exempt.
Heynckes has thus preempted a repetition of the awkward situation last weekend, when both Sebastian Rudy and Juan Bernat were unfortunately forced to watch the game from the stands.