With Madrid looming, Bayern must answer questions vs. Bremen
While Bayern Munich-Werder Bremen matches are not traditionally considered to be a derby, the two teams have squared off against each other 95 times in the past -- with Bayern clocking up 44 wins and 25 draws; the most recent pairing a 7-0 shellacking of Bremen in their Weserstadion in the Hinrunde. However embarrassing that result was for die Gruen-Weissen, it may be different at the Allianz Arena on Saturday as die Roten may not have just one eye but rather both on Tuesday's Champions League semifinal return leg against Real Madrid.
The players, and manager Pep Guardiola, have publicly praised Bayern's play despite narrowly losing 1-0 away at the Bernabeu. Arjen Robben, post-match, said: "I've got to pay the team a compliment for the way we controlled the game here in the Bernabeu. We’ve not been great for the past two weeks, but tonight we were. We really upped our game."
Guardiola intoned: "You can hardly catch them. You've got to be well-organised, and we were. I'm proud of my team. There is no better team around than Real Madrid."
Ahem, Herr Guardiola, there used to be a better team around. But, I digress...
This inconvenient match is in the middle of what are certainly Bayern's two most important games of the season, thus far. And while the loss to Madrid was strangely considered a positive; the second half of Bayern's 2-0 win over Eintracht Braunschweig last week started to yield a little bit of the expected Bayern-engine return. It remains to be seen what Guardiola will do with the Startelf here; even he is not quite so sure, wanting to "talk to a few players" before he makes some final decisions.
Definitely out for the Bayern trainer is Rafinha; serving the second of his three-match suspension for his red-card again Borussia Dortmund, as well as injury-listed Thiago Alcantara (though he'll be ready for the Pokal final), Diego Contento, Holger Badstuber, and Tom Starke.
Toni Kroos comes back after serving his one-match suspension on accumulated yellows, Daniel van Buyten returns after injury and the birth of his third child and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg returns after the death of his father.
Werder Bremen trainer Robin Dutt has recently manouvered his side out of the drop-zone -- collecting seven points in four matches – and now sit 11th place with 36 points. And he'll have nearly his full roster at his disposal, as captain Clemens Fritz has recently returned to team training after ligament damage. Only Ludovic Obraniak may possibly miss as he sat out Friday's training with a calf problem.
Zlatko Junuzovic returns for the Green-Whites after serving his own yellow card suspension, while Felix Kroos just might find brother, Toni, in midfield; returning to the squad after a knee injury against Wolfsburg on match-day 27.
"We have to try to get into the challenges so they can't play their game. And then we also need some courage in attack," said Dutt at the pre-match press conference. Indeed that's been the way to beat Bayern Munich this season: physical play, hurrying the Reds off their passes, and taking the rare chance on the break to go ahead.
Guardiola is sure to use a blend of who's on form, while perhaps resting a few key players, ahead of the quick turn-around to Tuesday's match. Strangely enough, it's the easiest time in many years to go see Bayern live at the Allianz (tickets notoriously difficult to come by) -- after a string of poor results, and Bayern not fielding a proper XI (until the Braunschweig match) -- it has caused some supporters to not bother turning up for this weekend's clash. And this after recently reaching 500 consecutive matches at home, and away, sold-out? It's rather sad that this has come to pass.
As for Guardiola's mindset ahead of the week and beyond: "[We] need to attack more," Guardiola recently said, "and I need to find a balance between my ideas and the footballing culture in Germany."
There's no better time like the present.