Manuel Neuer makes his return to Gelsenkirchen tomorrow night as Bayern Munich travel to Schalke. The visitors are in great form coming into this game, and their summer signing from Schalke, Neuer, has now kept six consecutive clean sheets for the 2009/10 Bundesliga champions. Both Bayern Munich and Schalke played in European competition during the week, with Ralf Rangnick’s side drawing 0-0 at Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League, and Jupp Heynckes’ winning 2-0 at Villareal in the Champions League. Even right-back Rafinha scored in that game, and the Brazilian defender is another player making his return to the Veltins-Arena after leaving for Genoa two seasons back.
He and his defensive colleagues will have their work cut out keeping Raúl corked tomorrow, while Rafinha is going to be in for a tough afternoon in his one-on-one duel against the in-form Peruvian Jefferson Farfán too. Nevertheless, all eyes will mainly be at the other end of the pitch, with Franck Ribéry and Mario Gómez in scintillating form, the pair scoring goals and assisting them for fun so far this season.
On his return to Schalke, Neuer said this week: “I played 20 years with Schalke and I am looking forward to the game, meeting former team-mates, former work colleagues and also the fans. It is a strange situation for me and there will be a lot of eyes and cameras on me. I will have to try to cope well with this.”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that he and the team are turning up for one reason and one reason only: “For us, losing is forbidden and we want to start on Sunday with the first three points for the coming weeks.” Bayern will go two points clear at the top of the table with a win, although their goal difference (+15 pre-match), bolstered by recent 5-0 and 7-0 thrashings of Hamburg and Freiburg respectively, effectively means they’d be three points clear at the top of the table if they secure victory at a stadium where they lost 2-0 in the league back in December.
The visitors will have to win the game without Arjen Robben, Breno and Ivica Olić, all of whom are ruled out through injury. Gómez has also been struggling with a groin injury in the build-up to this clash, but should just about be fit enough to play for Heynckes’ side. Ralf Rangnick and Schalke, on the other hand, have far more players set to miss out on this game, albeit fringe-y ones, with the likes of Jermaine Jones, Hans Sarpei, Peer Kluge and Christoph Moritz not included in the squad. Tim Hoogland and Levan Kenia, meanwhile, are still struggling with their fitness after lengthy spells on the treatment table, and goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann might even miss out tomorrow due to injury.
After a run of three games which saw the club beat HJK Helsinki 6-1, Mainz 4-2 and Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0, Schalke lost 2-1 to Wolfsburg last weekend despite taking the lead. Followed up by the 0-0 Europa League draw on Thursday, Rangnick is understandably cautious ahead of his side’s latest game. He said: “Having made a good start to the season, Bayern will come here in a confident mood. We’ll need to be well organised at the back and make better use of the space on offer than we did against Steaua.”
The referee for tomorrow’s game will be Florian Meyer, who was the fourth official for the Champions League final between Milan and Liverpool in 2007. Meyer is a regularly selected referee for UEFA competitions, but Valencia fans won’t recall Meyer too fondly, as he was the man who failed to award them a blatant penalty during the closing stages of their Europa League quarter-final against Atlético Madrid back in April 2010. That decision essentially saw Valencia knocked out of the competition, and coach Unai Emery struggled to hold himself back from the German official at the end of the game. Meyer will need to have his wits about him if the Schalke-Bayern game begins to resemble the Bundesliga tie played between the sides the very same month as the Atlético-Valencia tie, as a foul-ridden affair saw a number of yellow cards and both Marcelo Bordon and Hamit Altintop sent off.
Schalke vs Bayern kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.