German champions and league leaders Bayern Munich travel to the Bay Arena to take on fourth place Bayer Leverkusen in Gameweek 20 of the Bundesliga.
Pep Guardiola will head into Saturday’s match against Bayer Leverkusen knowing well that his Bayern Munich side have failed to win a league match at the Bay Arena in their last six outings.
Die Roten, who currently sit atop the Bundesliga table with an 8 point lead over Borussia Dortmund, will be hoping to overcome several off-field issues when they take the field on Saturday. Reports of discontent in the Bayern Munich camp on account of Pep Guardiola’s impending departure in the summer have surfaced in the German media recently. They will be looking to deflect attention away from these issues by registering a convincing win over a dangerous Bayer Leverkusen side.
Roger Schmidt vs Josep Guardiola
Martí Perarnau’s insightful biography on Guardiola titled “Pep Confidential” revealed the Catalan’s fascination with Roger Schmidt. Guardiola’s Bayern Munich were humiliated 3-0 by Roger Schmidt’s Red Bull Salzburg in a winter friendly match in January, 2014. Schmidt eventually went on to win the Austrian title with Salzburg later that season and jumped on board the Leverkusen bandwagon the following summer.
“This is a great team and I’m a big fan. We weren’t used to a team pressing us so aggressively and it was one of our toughest games. Compliments to Schmidt and his team”, said Guardiola (via fourfourtwo) after his side’s slender 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen last season.
Schmidt and Guardiola will continue their battle for one-upmanship on Saturday when Bayern and Bayer clash at the Bay Arena in a season-defining match for both sides.
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Guardiola wary of Bayer’s deadly attacking duo
Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side lost just 5 matches during the whole of last season on their way to the Bundesliga title — one of them being a 2-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen at the Bay Arena. In his pre-match press conference, Guardiola admitted that he was wary of Leverkusen’s free scoring attacking duo of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Stefan Kießling.
Hernandez, in particular, has been in incredible form lately and it will be difficult to work with an injury ridden Bayern Munich defence. Guardiola’s side will find it difficult to stop Kießling from winning the long balls launched into the box due to the absence of central defenders Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Medhi Benatia through injuries.
While Boateng is likely to miss the remainder of the season, Martinez and Benatia are expected to be out for a month. To further compound Pep’s injury problems, new signing Serdar Tasci from Spartak Moscow was also ruled out of Saturday’s match with a head injury. Holger Badstuber and 20-year-old Joshua Kimmich will start at the centre of defence for Bayern.
Schmidt’s high pressing approach aims to halt the Bavarian juggernaut
When Roger Schmidt joined Bayer Leverkusen from Red Bull Salzburg in the summer of 2014, he brought with him his famous alarm clock. Schmidt would start his clock every time his side lost possession of the football and stop it after 5 seconds. His players would press hard, close down spaces and pursue the ball relentlessly for a time period of 5 seconds and fall back into their defensive positions once it elapsed. This anecdote typifies the way Roger Schmidt approaches the game.
Bayer’s intense hard pressing approach has been fairly successful in the league this season with the team currently occupying the final Champions League berth. The spectacular goal scoring form of Chicharito has been central to Leverkusen’s minor revival in the middle of the season following a slow start in the beginning. Schmidt’s team will need to close down spaces quickly and prevent the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller from gaining possession in the final third if they are to spring an almighty upset on Saturday.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez vs Manuel Neuer
The battle between Leverkusen sharp shooter Javier Hernandez and Bayern Munich shot stopper Manuel Neuer perfectly epitomises the irresistible force paradox formulated as: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Chicharito has scooped up 3 successive Bundesliga Player of the Month awards on the back of his exceptional goal scoring returns for Roger Schmidt’s side this season — scoring 13 goals in 16 matches.
The Mexican will, however, face his toughest challenge on Saturday when he comes up against arguably the best goal keeper in the world — Manuel Neuer. With 12 clean sheets accumulated this season, Neuer has conceded fewer goals than any other goal keeper in Europe’s top 5 leagues. The winner of this fascinating battle between two of Bundesliga’s hottest properties is likely to influence the final outcome of this match.
Ömer Toprak vs Robert Lewandowski
With 49 goals scored in his 36 matches for Bayern Munich, Polish international Robert Lewandowsk is one of the hottest strikers in Europe at the moment. Only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund (20) has scored more goals than him this season. Lewandowski, who has already scored 4 times in the two matches played since the winter break, will be looking to add to his tally on Saturday. Leverkusen central defender Ömer Toprak will be tasked with stopping the Polish International from getting on the scoresheet.
Kevin Kampl vs Arturo Vidal
Slovenian international Kevin Kampl has been one of the standout performers for Leverkusen this season. Signed from Borussia Dortmund in the summer on a 5-year contract, Kampl has been instrumental for Schmidt’s plans this season as the chief orchestrator in the middle of the park. He will come under direct confrontation with Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal. The former Juventus man was signed in the summer by Guardiola to operate as a box to box midfielder. Given his stature at Juventus, Vidal has failed to live up to all the hype at Bayern and will be looking to impress his employers by putting in a strong shift against Leverkusen in the weekend.
Blast from the Past
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Bayern Munich (2 May, 2015)
Bayer Leverkusen came out comfortable 2-0 winners against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich when the two sides clashed at the Bay Arena in May last season. Goals from Hakan Calhanoglu and Julian Brandt condemned an underperforming Bayern to their 3rd defeat of the season — a week after the Bavarians lifted the 25th German league title.