Bayern Munich kickstart their Ruckrunde campaign on Friday night as they take on Borussia Monchengladbach at the Allianz Arena.

After a three-week midseason hiatus, the Bundesliga is set to return to action this week, with Rekordmeister Bayern Munich kicking things off on Friday night, with a home encounter against a stumbling Borussia Monchengladbach.

The build-up to this game has been dominated by anxiety rather than excitement, with the Bayern camp missing the majority of their first-team players. A total of nine individuals, including Alphonso Davies, have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past four days, leading many to speculate over a potential postponement of the fixture.

The German football association (DFL), though, has shown no desire to postpone the first game of the Ruckrunde, but they are keeping a close eye on the situation. There is a chance the game could still yet be postponed should more players from the two camps test positive.

It puts Bayern in a precarious position, as the league leaders look to continue their preparations for their first game of 2022. The Bavarians have a healthy nine-point lead at the top of the table, but Julian Nagelsmann will be aware that any slip up could allow Borussia Dortmund the opportunity to bridge the gap.

The hosts also have a bone to pick with Gladbach, who had famously knocked the defending champions out of the DFB Pokal by registering a 5-0 win earlier this season. The Foals had also held Bayern to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in what was the opening game of the 2021/22 Bundesliga campaign.

However, a lot has changed for Gladbach since, with the team heading into this game on the back of just one win in seven league matches. Currently dawdling 14th in the league table, Adi Hutter’s men are just three points away from the direct dropzone and are hoping for an upturn of fortunes when they take on the league leaders this Friday.

Team News & Tactics

Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich have a slew of players unavailable due to COVID-19 or injuries. Manuel Neuer, Alphonso Davies, Lucas Hernandez, Leroy Sane, and Dayot Upamecano are some of the players who have tested positive, whereas Leon Goretzka, Josip Stanisic are out injured.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bouna Sarr are unavailable as well due to the African Cup of Nations. But on the flip side, there is a belief within the camp that Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman might be available. The two Frenchmen were the first to test positive for Coronavirus and could be in contention to feature against Gladbach if they test negative in time.

Julian Nagelsmann has also brought in a host of U23 players into the squad, including Taylor Booth, Arijon Ibrahimovic and Paul Wanner, among many others. However, as Thomas Muller stated in the pre-match interview, there are some first-team players who may not get to play in their favourite position.

One of them could be the returning Joshua Kimmich. After a long absence, the German international might be asked to play at centre-back, alongside Benjamin Pavard and Niklas Sule, as Nagelsmann changes to a back three. However, it won’t be surprising to see Kimmich move up to the pitch to act as an auxiliary number six during possession phases.

The apparent lack of full-back options could see Serge Gnabry and Malik Tillman operate as the wing-backs, whereas the onus of forming the central midfield setup will be on Marc Roca and Jamal Musiala.

In the attack, Robert Lewandowski is fit and ready to start the Ruckrunde on a positive note. He will be supported by Thomas Muller and Marcel Sabitzer, who may have additional duties in the second line of press. Hence, we could potentially witness a situational 3-5-2 with Muller and Lewandowski spearheading the Bavarian frontline.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Ulreich; Pavard, Kimmich, Sule; Gnabry, Roca, Musiala, Tillman; Muller, Sabitzer; Lewandowski

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Borussia Monchengladbach

Borussia Monchengladbach have a few COVID-related absentees of their own, including Joe Scally and the influential midfielder Denis Zakaria. Additionally, Ramy Bensebaini is representing Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nations, while Jonas Hofmann is currently out injured.

It leaves Adi Hutter with very few options, especially in the midfield and wing-back positions. Zakaria, in particular, will be a huge miss, and the visitors are hoping that the central midfield combination of Christoph Kramer and Kouadio Kone can do well in his absence.

As for the wing-back department, the absence of Scally and Bensebaini should pave the way for Stefan Lainer to make a return at right-back. Luca Netz remains a guaranteed starter on the opposite flank, with the two hoping to provide the thrust going forward in the Gladbach counter-attacks, especially in the absence of Hofmann.

With their creator-in-chief not available, Hutter is likely to deploy a free-flowing front three of Lars Stindl, Alassane Plea and the hard-working Breel Embolo. All of these three players are versatile enough to drop deeper in the second line of press and keep the opposition defenders guessing.

Speaking of defence, it has been a major weakness for Gladbach in recent matches. Matthias Ginter’s announcement of a departure at the end of the season has not helped matters either, though it will be interesting to see how the former Dortmund star responds as he partners Nico Elvedi and Tony Jantschke in the back three.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Sommer; Ginter, Jantschke, Elvedi; Lainer, Kramer, Kone, Netz; Stindl, Plea; Embolo

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Key Stats

  • Bayern Munich’s current tally of 43 points after 17 Matchdays was bettered only four times in their Bundesliga history, most recently in 2015/16 under Pep Guardiola.
  • Robert Lewandowski’s 43 goals in 34 Bundesliga games in 2021 is a new calendar year high, beating Gerd Müller’s 42 goals in 1972.
  • Thomas Müller has a Bundesliga-leading 13 assists this season. His tally of 24 league assists in 2021 is more than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues.
  • Gladbach have won five and drawn one of their last 10 competitive games with Bayern.
  • Breel Embolo supplied two goals and two assists in Gladbach’s 5-0 Cup win over Bayern.

Player to Watch

Matthias Ginter

Matthias Ginter’s announcement of a departure at the end of the season served as a massive blow for the club that has endured a lot over the past 12 months. Almost a year ago, a similar announcement by previous coach Marco Rose led to a massive dip in form, which ultimately saw the Foals fail to qualify for European football. Things have not improved much under Adi Hutter either.

This time around, both Zakaria and Ginter have confirmed that they are leaving the club when their contracts expire at the end of the season. While Zakaria is not available, it will be interesting to see how Ginter fares in this encounter, especially amid reports linking him to a potential Bosman move to Bayern Munich next season.

Prediction

Bayern Munich 1-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

Adi Hutter is perhaps the best coach in Europe when it comes to facing Bayern Munich. The former Eintracht Frankfurt trainer hasn’t fared well at Gladbach so far, but he certainly knows how to outmanoeuvre the Bavarians by expertly using the combination of speed and strength in the attack, coupled with a high press. We can expect more of the same on Friday.

Although the Foals are potential relegation candidates this season, they have a golden opportunity to grab points against a depleted Bayern squad that might not have enough firepower if the opposition manages to keep tabs on both Muller and Lewandowski. As such, we are expecting the two sides to share the spoils.

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