Bayern Munich to sniff out narrow victory at Cologne before Arsenal trip
After fragrant performances against Arsenal, Hamburg and Schalke, buoyant Bayern Munich travel to the Rhine scenting another Bundesliga victory at Cologne on Saturday.
Bayern have lost only once in their previous 13 trips to Cologne. In Feb. 2011, the Reds squandered a two-goal half-time lead, with Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller all in the starting lineup. From a position of complete dominance, Louis van Gaal's side fell apart against lowly opponents. The defence in particular was a shambles that day, with Holger Badstuber struggling alongside the out-of-position Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. A couple of months later Van Gaal was out of a job, but not before a bitter war of words with club president Uli Hoeness.
Not that Carlo Ancelotti need feel any apprehension ahead of his 1002nd game as a top-level coach. Currently, the Italian maestro can bask in the rare luxury of an almost fully fit squad. Franck Ribery returned with stunning effect on Wednesday, leaving Jerome Boateng as the only major absentee. And even Bayern's rock at the back should be playing in another couple of weeks at the latest.
But Ancelotti will warn against underestimating Cologne, as they did so evidently earlier in the season. Following five straight wins, Bayern relinquished their first points of the campaign in a tepid 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena. Simon Zoller should even have won it for Cologne on the counter-attack right at the end. Anthony Modeste, currently on 17 goals in the Bundesliga, got a cute equaliser that day and the Rhinelanders are rumoured to have turn down a series of offers from China of around €50 million for the in-form French striker.
While Bayern are sure to be full of confidence after their recent upturn in form, it wouldn't surprise if they struggled to match those standards against a resolute Cologne side. Despite last weekend's 8-0 romp over hapless Hamburg, we shouldn't expect a goal-fest either when the two Bundesliga outfits with the best defensive records meet. Peter Stoger's side also remain unbeaten at home in 10 games this season, allowing only five goals.
Stoger is a realist when it comes to what it will take to down the league leaders.
"You have to do a really good job yourself, take the few chances you have and hope that Bayern don't enjoy their best day," he said.
While Mats Hummels is a doubt with a sore buttock, captain Philipp Lahm will surely feature at right-back on the Rhine. Lahm was rested in the cup against Schalke in midweek and will also be spared the trip to London to face Arsenal due to suspension. You simply cannot imagine Ancelotti giving his captain a three-game holiday during his final season.
The games continue to come thick and fast for treble-seeking Bayern. With a 3-0 lead at the break against Schalke, you could visibly see Bayern seriously applying cruise control against their opponents during the second half. Or as two-goal hero Robert Lewandowski said: "We know we have to play every three days so our tempo wasn't as high." Schalke's sole focus seemed to be not getting gubbed 8-0 like Hamburg a few days earlier.
Expect Bayern to sniff out a narrow victory at the weekend against a tough Cologne side before turning their attention to a nice trip to London to hand Arsenal their annual round-of-16 Champions League exit.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.