Bayern Munich will have an ideal opportunity to sail away in the Bundesliga title race as they lock horns with bottom club FC Schalke on Sunday.
After a horrid start to 2021, Bayern Munich have had an excellent week so far, especially in the ongoing matchday that saw the three title challengers in Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig all taste defeat. As a result, the Bavarians have an ideal opportunity to extend their lead at the top to seven points, should they manage to secure a win against Schalke on Sunday.
Bayern had famously secured an incredible 8-0 victory in the reverse fixture, in what was the opening match of the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign. Hansi Flick’s men, unfortunately, failed to maintain that consistency over the course of the season and have looked exceedingly vulnerable in recent weeks. They had to grind out their recent wins against SC Freiburg and FC Augsburg while tasting defeat at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach.
As for Schalke, it was the start of a miserable campaign that saw them wait until the 14th matchday before their first win in the Bundesliga. A 4-0 win over TSG Hoffenheim did indeed serve as a ray of hope for the Royal Blues, but they were quickly erased by two back-to-back defeats against Eintracht Frankfurt and 1.FC Koln.
As a result, Schalke are once again languishing at the bottom of the Bundesliga table. Although a win against Bayern could get them level on points with Koln, head coach Christian Gross will be well aware of the monumental effort it would require to do so. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this crucial encounter in the Bundesliga this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
The rapid breakthrough of Matthew Hoppe appears to have added a lease of life into the Schalke attack. The young American forward has netted five goals in his last three matches, including a hat-trick against Hoffenheim. As a result, he has become an overnight sensation in the Bundesliga.
American Matthew Hoppe is German Football’s Linsanity. The 19-year old from Orange County, CA has emerged from nowhere to score his 5th goal in 3 games. How many similarly undiscovered raw talents must there be waiting to be found across our nation? 🇺🇸🇩🇪pic.twitter.com/HHdflsswJK
— roger bennett (@rogbennett) January 20, 2021
Hoppe’s presence in the number nine slot will undoubtedly be key for Schalke, with Gross hoping that the creative trifecta of Mark Uth, Benito Raman and the in-form Amine Harit can provide the required supply for the 19-year-old sensation. Their pace and craft could be useful especially on the counter as Schalke look to take advantage of Bayern’s high line of press.
Speaking of playing on the counter, Schalke don’t exactly have any quality ball-playing centre-back at their disposal. But, the midfield duo of Suat Serdar and Omar Mascarell could do well, with the latter, in particular, more than capable of picking out diagonal passes and defence-splitting through balls.
Meanwhile, in the defensive unit, the Royal Blues looked way too vulnerable dealing with long balls in the reverse fixture. Gross will be well aware of that issue and could thus employ a deep defensive line, with Ozan Kabak and Matija Nastasic operating at centre-back.
Sead Kolasinac has provided a lot of quality at left-back after returning to Gelsenkirchen, so he remains a guaranteed start. It will be interesting to see he and Timo Becker deal with Bayern’s offensive threat this weekend.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Fahrmann; Becker, Kabak, Nastasic, Kolasinac; Mascarell, Serdar; Raman, Uth, Harit; Hoppe
Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick refused to make too many changes in the Bavarian derby in midweek, but with games coming thick and fast, he could be tempted to make one or two alterations against FC Schalke.
Leroy Sane, for one, might finally be rewarded with a start ahead of Kingsley Coman, with Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller retaining their place in the creative trifecta as usual. These three will look to support Robert Lewandowski, with the Pole desperate to extend his scoring tally as he chases Gerd Muller’s outrageous record of 40 goals in a Bundesliga campaign.
There could be one change in defence as well despite the welcome clean sheet against Augsburg. Lucas Hernandez should make way for Alphonso Davies at left-back, in what is a routine change for Flick. It will be interesting to see how the Canadian fares against the young Becker on the flank, while Benjamin Pavard on the opposite flank could be dealt with the task of overseeing Harit.
The central defensive pairing of Jerome Boateng and David Alaba should remain unchanged, even though neither of these two players seem to have any future at the club. Nevertheless, Niklas Sule and Chris Richards do remain potential alternatives for Flick, should he opt to provide a breather for Boateng.
And finally, in the midfield unit, Joshua Kimmich could once again form the double-pivot alongside Leon Goretzka, who is looking to make an impression against his former side this weekend. Corentin Tolisso, who is linked with Manchester United, remains a doubt, but we might see Jamal Musiala making a substitute appearance in this game.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Pavard, Boateng, Alaba, Davies; Goretzka, Kimmich; Gnabry, Muller, Sane; Lewandowski
- Bayern Munich claimed 39 points in the first half of this season, six more than last. From their last 34 matches played in the second half of a campaign, the record champions have suffered just one defeat.
- FC Schalke’s last win against Bayern Munich came on 2 March 2011 with a 1-0 victory in the DFB Cup.
- In Matthew Hoppe and Robert Lewandowski, Sunday sees the two top scorers in 2021 so far (5) go head-to-head.
- Robert Lewandowski has scored in each of his last seven away matches, equalling the Bundesliga record. No player has ever scored in eight successive matches on the road.
- Bayern Munich’s No.9 has also scored in each of his last 10 meetings with Schalke (13 goals) which is a Bundesliga record.
Player to Watch
While it will be exciting to see Matthew Hoppe go head to head against Robert Lewandowski this weekend, it is Leroy Sane who could attract the most attention. The Bayern Munich winger has a point to prove after failing to live up to the expectations following his big-money from Manchester City in the summer.
The German international has fallen behind the likes of Gnabry, Coman and Muller in the pecking order. Hence, on Sunday, the onus will be on Sane to work his magic in the final third and provide the creativity and spark going forward. He certainly has the potential to do so, having shown glimpses of his talents to varying degrees week in week out.
A solid performance at his former stomping ground, against his former team, could indeed be a poetic return for the Bayern Munich superstar this weekend.
FC Schalke 1-3 Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich are the undisputed favourites heading into this game. The Bavarians have secured two back-to-back wins in the Bundesliga and have an outstanding record against Schalke. But, it is fair to point out that the Royal Blues have improved a lot since their 8-0 humiliation in the opening day and we do expect them to cause problems for the opposing defence, with Hoppe likely to score once again.
In the end, however, the reigning champions should have enough quality to bag another victory and strengthening their place at the top of the Bundesliga table.