After a month long hiatus, the Bundesliga finally resumes with a clash between Hamburg and Bayern Munich at the Volksparkstadion. Both sides enter the game in poor ‘mid-season friendly’ form.

In their only friendly game of the break, Bayern fielded a full strength side but nevertheless lost 2-1 to 2nd division side Karlsruher SC, and Hamburg lost their friendlies to Erfurt, Ajax and Young Boys. However, the first competitive game of 2016 has a different setting altogether and mid-season friendlies can be dismissed as simple experimental periods.

The Managers

Bayern Munich training camp in Doha

Pep Guardiola has announced his departure from Bayern at the end of the season but rightly stresses that his time at Bayern was a success. The chance to once again add a Bundesliga trophy to his collection starts against Hamburg, but his time without too many inured players. Only missing Mario Götze, Franck Ribery and Mehdi Benatia, Bayern could practically field their first choice starting XI for the first time this season. Guardiola has typically played a 4-2-4 formation this season with full-backs Philipp Lahm and David Alaba pushing into midfield in a 2-4-4 formation that emphasizes controlling play in the opposition half. Using Thiago and Xabi Alonso’s passing range to pick out Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa will be Bayern’s game plan, similar to the first match of the season against Hamburg.

Werder Bremen vs SV Hamburg

Guardiola’s counterpart Bruno Labbadia has extended his contract to 2017 after transforming Hamburg from a relegation threatened team into a mid table team with a clear identity within a year. Notably, Labbadia has found a solution to a shaky defence and has bought Lewis Holtby back to his best. The German playmaker has been used as a #10 and as a left sided midfielder by previous managers, but is at his best in a deeper role. Labbadia has also bought back traditional wingers into his team with Ivo Ilicevic a regular under him. The Croatian looked certain to leave Hamburg last summer but has been a rejuvenated attacking force this season. However, first choice players Emir Spahic and Albin Ekdal are both injured, which could limit the team’s freedom. Hamburg should start the game in a traditional 4-2-3-1 shape but will form a 5-4-1 when defending, something that seems to be the norm against Bayern nowadays.

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Strength and Weaknesses

The departure of Marcelo Diaz to Celta Vigo and the injuries to Gideon Jung, Gojko Kacar and Albin Ekdal leave Hamburg with no option in the defensive midfield department. Labbadia could end up playing a fifth defender in the role or consider playing the newly promoted youth player, Fin Porath. Either way, the lack of a midfield destroyer could cost Hamburg the game and put the pressure on Lewis Holtby to defend.

A fit Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s physical presence is a threat to any team, and certainly Bayern in particular. The big German striker thrives on the counter attack which if supplemented by a commanding performance from playmaker Lewis Holtby, could be lethal. Hoofing the ball upfield towards Lasogga has often worked in the past and may be the guest’s game plan once again on Friday. Further, Bayern’s high defensive line and Hamburg’s pacy wingers Ivo Ilicevic and Nicolai Müller may provide the guests with a few chances to bear down on Manuel Neuer.

Luring the opposition into their own half and then using the pace of Douglas Costa and Arjen Robben to launch a counter seems to be the inevitable way Bayern will score on Friday. Coupled with the sometimes questionable Hamburg defence, Bayern’s counter is their biggest strength.

Key Battles

Rene Adler vs. Robert Lewandowski

1899 Hoffenheim vs Hamburger SV

One of the most effective goalkeepers in the league this season, ex German #1 Rene Adler has been tremendous for Die Rothosen. His form into November was fantastic and was Hamburg’s man of the match for 3 consecutive league games. However, he may be in for a long evening as he faces Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s top scorer with 15 league goals. Adler, typical of keepers against Bayern, needs to put in another world class performace.

Dennis Diekmeier/Gotoku Sakai vs. Douglas Costa

Bayern Munich vs VfB Stuttgart

Douglas Costa made his Bundesliga debut back in August this season vs. Hamburg and had a field day. One goal and an assist in a five goal rout was the final result and not to mention a headache for Dennis Diekmeier after the game. Not a slow player by any means, the Hamburg right-back was beaten for pace and trickery numerous times. Now once again vs. Bayern, he faces a battle against Costa. Even if Labbadia chooses to play Japanese international Gotoku Sakai, the duel promises to be interesting.

Pierre-Michel Lasogga vs. Javi Martinez/Holger Badstuber

Hamburger SV vs Borussia Dortmund

Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez are both world class defenders but often find themselves lacking pace, something that could be exploited easily in a high defensive line. Irrespective of who starts, Martinez or Badstuber, the duel with Lasogga could be exciting.

Prediction

Hamburg are a completely different side from last season and Labaddia’s success at the club cannot be overstated. However they are clearly the weaker of the two sides and with crucial players missing through injury as well, the chances of an upset are slim. Expect some great control and attacking movement from Bayern, but any occasional lapses of concentration could be punished by Hamburg in a smash-and-grab situation.

Hamburg 1-3 Bayern Munich

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