It’s a battle between two of the four sides still in the hunt for the title this Sunday, as Schalke travel to the Allianz Arena to take on Bayern Munich. Both sides were in action during the week, with Schalke overcoming Viktoria Plzeň after extra-time to reach the next round of the Europa League, and Bayern continuing their poor run of recent form by losing 1-0 away at Basel in the Champions League.
Compounded by a run of two wins in their last five league games, the Bavarian side have looked bereft of drive and determination in recent weeks, with last Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Freiburg being a particularly listless showing. Question marks remain over the form and best use of Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller, among others, while players such as Rafinha – who, like Manuel Neuer, is a former Schalke player – have looked out of their depth in recent weeks. Having said that, Schalke remain the underdogs for this clash, as Bayern still arguably boast the best first XI in the Bundesliga, and Mario Gómez is joint top goalscorer in the league – the number one spot being shared with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who will be hoping to fire Schalke to their first Bundesliga victory in Munich since the 2008/09 season.
When these two sides met earlier this season at the Veltins-Arena, Bayern won 2-0. However, Schalke defeated Bayern twice last season – once in the league, and once in the DFB-Pokal semi-final. They did the same in the 2009/10 season too, although Bayern did go on to win the league that season. Bayern entered the weekend’s round of fixtures sitting in third place – one point ahead of fourth-placed Schalke, but four behind league-leaders Dortmund (who host Hannover in the game following this one). A draw between these two sides would appear to be extremely unlikely, given that Bayern are yet to draw at home this season, while Huub Stevens’ side have shared the spoils just once on the road this season.
Although the Gelsenkirchen outfit comfortably destroyed Wolfsburg 4-0 last weekend, the 3-0 loss to second-placed Borussia Monchengladbach suggests that Schalke – for all the goals Huntelaar scores and all the magic and intelligence Raúl brings to the team – haven’t got what it takes to win the 2011/12 Bundesliga title. Admittedly, the club have been hit by a number of suspensions and injuries throughout the season, with Raúl playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks due to a thigh injury, but Stevens’ young defence have not always looked entirely convincing even when the majority of first-choice players have been available for selection.
Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, who will certainly be feeling the heat should his side fail to collect all three points this weekend, was actually in charge at Schalke earlier this millennium. He’ll be hoping a former Bayern player, Alexander Baumjohann, doesn’t come back to haunt his former employers on Sunday: the 25-year-old midfielder is still something of an enigma, but can be a match-winner on his day. Whether the mercurial talent starts in Munich is another matter, however, as it looks like Stevens will have all his attacking midfielders available for selection. Players who are expected to be missing, though, include the suspended Jermaine Jones, and injured goalkeepers Lars Unnerstall and Ralf Fährmann – meaning that Timo Hildebrand will get to make his first start for Schalke in the Bundesliga. Heynckes, meanwhile, looks set to be without defenders Diego Contento, Daniel van Buyten and Breno (meaning Jérôme Boateng will probably get to continue in his favoured centre-back position), and key centre-midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Following Basel’s goal on Wednesday, several Bayern players exchanged angry words on the pitch. However, Heynckes took this as “a positive sign.” He added: “You can’t just brush a defeat under the carpet. I think a culture of healthy disagreement is very important for the team. It’s a sign that there’s life in the team.” With Schalke coming to town,the 66-year-old emphasised the importance of “returning to winning ways using team spirit and teamwork.” Stevens, meanwhile, said: ““It won’t be easy for us, but as always, it’s about getting the three points.” The 58-year-old went on to add: “Bayern have the best squad in the Bundesliga, create opportunities in every game, and have quality players in every position. However, sometimes you have phases when the ball just won’t go in, and football is all about scoring goals.”
Bayern Munich against Schalke kicks off at 2.30pm (in the UK) this Sunday, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. The referee will be Michael Weiner, who will be taking charge of his fourth game involving Bayern Munich this season. The weather is expected to be sleety, and the temperature somewhere between zero and four degrees.