If you imagined an inverted sandwich in which a slice of white bread was put between two slices of meat, that slice of bread would be Hannover 96. Bayern Munich just crushed Bayer Leverkusen in the semifinals of the DFB Pokal; they will face European heavyweight Real Madrid on Wednesday next week in what will be to date the most important match of the season.
As Hannover’s coach André Breitenreiter himself put it (Kicker),
Bayern are in the decisive phase of the season . . . and brutally focused.
We’ll probably encounter Bayern’s C-team and ourselves play with our A-team. To that extent, we’re going into a game as the favorites for the first time this season.
Hannover have played decently in their return to the top flight of German soccer this season. They currently are in 13th place (9-9-13) with a -6 goal difference. For Bayern, of course, it doesn’t matter who they are or what their record is. Having already clinched the Bundesliga title, Bayern will spare any and all key players to ensure they recover from Leverkusen and are prepared to beat Real on Wednesday. Expect heavy rotation.
We asked our staff to predict Jupp Heynckes’s lineup and here is what they devised:
Chuck opted for a traditional 4-2-3-1 with a highly unconventional set of names filling it out. After sitting on the bench for most of the match against Leverkusen, James starts at the 10 spot with Thomas Muller on the right and Juan Bernat on the left. Rafinha and Niklas Süle spell David Alaba and Mats Hummels in the back line. This lineup would make it doubtful that James would start against his former club on Wednesday.
Phil furled out a rotated 4-1-4-1, but featuring Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on the wings. This lineup instead spares both James and Müller ahead of Wednesday, making an appearance by Robbery on Wednesday rather unlikely. Sebastian Rudy holds down the fort as the sole CDM, while Boateng is the only sure starter on Wednesday behind him.
Ineednoname pushes Bernat back onto the left wing of a 4-2-3-1, resting Ribery, but not Robben. That corresponds to the general feeling of their recent performances: Ribery excelling against all odds, while Robben stagnates. Behind a double-pivot of Tolisso and Rudy, Rafinha and Süle relieve Alaba and Boateng.