Bayern Munich face a tricky test against Bayer Leverkusen

MUNICH, GERMANY - JANUARY 28: Jerome Boateng battles for the ball during a FC Bayern Muenchen training session at Saebener Strasse training ground on January 28, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - JANUARY 28: Jerome Boateng battles for the ball during a FC Bayern Muenchen training session at Saebener Strasse training ground on January 28, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images) /
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Bayern Munich gear up for a tricky game away at Bayer Leverkusen in their third Bundesliga match of the 2018-19 Ruckrunde.

The Bundesliga title race looks like it will be going down to the wire this season, as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have both kicked off the second half of the season well. Niko Kovac’s methods are now slowly coming into fruition, and the Bavarians are starting to pair impressive performances with positive results.

Still, last weekend’s scoreline against Stuttgart was flattering for Bayern. The away side made their hosts work hard for a victory at Allianz Arena, something that has become a bit of a theme over the last few months.

Die Roten have struggled at home this season, but their performances and results have generally been better away from the Allianz Arena. Kovac’s men sit six points behind Borussia Dortmund, and another away victory tomorrow is key to help them keep pressure on their league rivals.

Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, were in deep trouble the last time they faced Bayern, having started the season horrifically. They recovered pretty well by the time winter break arrived, but they still parted ways with coach Heiko Herllich. The home side is currently ninth in the Bundesliga, but they have enough quality to climb high up the league table. It will be a massive boost to their confidence if they get a favorable result against the defending champions.

Team News

Bayern Munich received a major boost this week when Corentin Tolisso resumed outdoor training after over four months out of practice due to injury. The Frenchman is in the final phase of his recovery from an ACL and meniscus injury and is expected to be back in action at the start of March. Thiago Alcantara, however, missed training on both Thursday and Friday due to a minor knock and is likely to miss tomorrow’s clash.

Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben returned to first team training this week, but Kovac is not expecting the two experienced wingers to play against Leverkusen. Manuel Neuer, meanwhile, is also set to miss this game, having injured his right hand in training this week.

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Predicted XI

Niko Kovac has settled on one particular system and starting lineup in the past few weeks. It will be a big surprise if he makes any significant changes on Saturday. Sven Ulreich will get his first start of the season in Neuer’s absence. Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule will maintain their partnership in central defense, while Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba will slot in the right-back and left-back positions.

Javi Martinez was pretty rusty against Stuttgart last weekend, but Thiago’s injury may see him keep his spot at the number six position, while Leon Goretzka will again play the box-to-box role. James Rodriguez has shown glimpses of his best form in his last two cameos and could finally get a start on Saturday. The Colombian is likely to be the attacking midfielder in this formation.

The injuries to Robben and Ribery will hinder Kovac’s plans to make any changes in attack. Robert Lewandowski will again lead the line for the visiting side. Kingsley Coman and Thomas Muller will resume their roles on the wings against Leverkusen.

"UlreichKimmich-Sule-Hummels-AlabaMartinez-GoretzkaMuller-James-ComanLewandowski"

Opposition Focus

Bayer Leverkusen have plenty of players capable of hurting Bayern Munich. The home side would usually be more than happy to surrender possession to the hosts and eventually pick them of on the counter, but Peter Bosz may prefer a more possession-based approach. This could play into Bayern’s hands though, as the Bavarians have shown their skill at picking teams apart on the counter over the past few weeks.

Kai Havertz will be a key player for the home side tomorrow. The teenager is attracting interest from several top clubs across Europe, including Bayern Munich. He has scored seven goals in the league and will be a key threat for Leverkusen on Saturday. Kevin Volland’s tireless work-rate and Julian Brandt’s creativity could be a big threat against the reigning German champions as well.

Next. Thiago Alcantara is enjoying life at Bayern Munich under Niko Kovac. dark

Prediction

Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Bayern Munich

Borussia Dortmund are showing no signs of slowing down, so every game is a must win for Bayern Munich. The defending champions have been scoring goals for fun recently, so that shouldn’t be a problem tomorrow. Their defensive line, though, could be exposed by Leverkusen’s talented attack. I expect this to be a close affair, but Bayern’s efficiency in front of goal will get them over the line.