It’s only February but the Bundesliga title race has reached a critical phase. Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig are first and second place in the table respectively, with only one point separating the two teams. Their clash could determine the outcome of the title race.
Julian Nagelsmann will be under pressure to orchestrate a turnaround for his team, who have seen them lost their lead in the Bundesliga and been knocked out of the DFB Pokal in the span of a couple of weeks. However, in a game this big, current form means little. The young coach has shown over and over again that he’s capable of pulling his team out of a slump. Hansi Flick, who has enjoyed a perfect series of results in the Ruckrunde so far, will have to be wary of his canny opponent.
With Kingsley Coman finally returning to the squad, Bayern Munich have only three players confirmed to be out for the game — Javi Martinez (thigh), Niklas Sule (knee), and Ivan Perisic (ankle). Lucas Hernandez has resumed team training, although he’s unlikely to start. Jerome Boateng, who showed signs of discomfort as he was subbed off against Hoffenheim in midweek, is also fit and ready to play.
Given that Nagelsmann is known for his tactical acumen, Hansi Flick will need to play the strongest XI he has available. Whether Philippe Coutinho features in that XI or not is a big doubt. Given his poor performance on the wing in midweek, it’s likely that the Brazilian will find himself on the bench and Serge Gnabry will be shifted to the left flank. Thomas Muller will be moved to Gnabry’s spot on the right, and Leon Goretzka (who was rested against Hoffenheim) will start at attacking midfield. The striker, of course, will be Robert Lewandowski.
As for the midfield — Thiago Alcantara was rested in the Pokal, presumably to keep him fresh for this critical game. He will pair up with Joshua Kimmich, and the two of them will be tasked with dealing with a Leipzig team that love to press and dominate the center of the pitch.
Finally, expect zero changes in defense. Even though Lucas Hernandez is available, Hansi Flick will probably opt for the tried-and-true backline of Alphonso Davies, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, and Benjamin Pavard.
Boa and Pavard have hopefully gotten over their midweek jitters these past few days, as the mistakes they made against Hoffenheim will be punished much more severely by forwards such as Timo Werner and Marcel Sabitzer. Flick mentioned in his press conference of that game that the performance was not satisfactory for the Bavarians, so hopefully he’s prepared the team more thoroughly for Sunday’s game.
With all that out of the way, here’s how we think Bayern Munich will line up against RB Leipzig:
- Kingsley Coman in for Thiago — If Coman is fit, he can start on the left, Goretzka can move back to form a pivot with Kimmich, and Gnabry and Muller can move back to their usual positions. However, it’s unlikely that Flick would bench Thiago for such a big game, given that he was rested and the form he’s currently in.
- Philippe Coutinho in for Thiago — again, it would allow Gnabry, Muller, and Goretzka to take more familiar positions on the pitch, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Brazilian start in a game of such consequence.
- Alvaro Odriozola in for Jerome Boateng — Once again, unlikely. Odriozola showed little to justify his inclusion during his brief cameo against Hoffenheim.
- Lucas Hernandez in for Jerome Boateng — Lucas JUST got back from a long injury, so it’s unlikely to happen unless Boateng is injured. However, such a move would require a complete rethink of the backline and possibly the midfield, given that Flick will want to avoid playing two left-footers (Lucas and Alaba) together in defense.
- Manuel Neuer in midfield — for the lolz.
According to Florian Plettenberg of Sport1, Lucas Hernandez will sit on the bench, while Leon Goretzka will come in for one of Gnabry or Coutinho.
This doesn’t change our prediction, but it’s good to know.