Sevensational – days after forcing Hoffenheim to freeze to death, the red avalanche buried Basel to qualify for the Champions League quarterfinal. The Swiss, of course wearing shirts as white as a Merle Haggard fan club, didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. But enough of the winter jokes…no, seriously, enough.
The players, the board and the fans are happy, having scored
14 15 14 (just ask Luiz Gustavo what he prefers) goals in the last two matches. What most seem to forget is that the worst is yet to come: an away match.
The last Bundesliga match away from home Bayern could win was back in December (which could bring us back to the winter jokes but I said no), obviously a long time ago. I should probably mention a more recent victory, again in Stuttgart, almost exactly five weeks ago but that would ruin this entire point.
What I’m trying to say: At Allianz Arena, Bayern are Harvey Dent. In a foreign stadium, they’re Two-Face. At home, they’re Hulk. After traveling, they’re Hulk, just without the superpowers. In Munich, they’re VHS. In other cities, they’re Betamax.
Personnel-wise, it’s the same old story for two center backs. Daniel van Buyten and Breno, whose legal problems look worse and worse, are injured. Bastian Schweinsteiger is recharging his fitness, occasional minor setbacks make an appearance in the starting lineup doubtful but he’s available if needed. Feels good. All others, not that many anyway, are available, even Rafinha is, after being sidelined for a week with the flu, fit enough for the bench, his current regular position.
Hertha, the h is silent, are still struggling to get used to the newly introduced ottocracy. Having scored one goal in the last six Bundesliga matches, it’s pretty obvious that Rehhagel’s offense is a bit too controlled. The bad news for Bayern: they looked the best at home against highly skilled opponents, beating Bremen 1-0 and somehow managing to lose against Dortmund despite being the team with the better scoring chances.
Coach Otto Rehhagel is well-known for his rather unique tactical approaches. Man-to-man marking? A sweeper or two? Maybe even an inverted center back? Or a false number one? Wait…nevermind, those actually exist. I believe they’re an English invention.
Jokes aside, expect three defensive midfielders. The experienced Levan Kobiashvili is banned after losing his marbles in Köln last weekend but that happened just in time for Andreas Ottl (yes, the Andreas Ottl) to return. He’s expected to play alongside Peter Niemeyer and the young Fanol Perdedaj. Together with the back four consisting of, from left to right, Felix Bastians, Christoph Janker, Roman Hubnik and Christian Lell (yes…), this might turn out to be a back seven. Seven? I like that number.
I mentioned Christian Lell and Andreas Ottl, the third and probably most popular former FCB player is goalkeeper Thomas Kraft. The first battle against Bayern and Manuel “Koan” Neuer was lost in Munich. Quick and easy, the guys in red scored three goals in the first 13 minutes and won 4-0, back when (our new favorite) Markus Babbel was still coach of the most famous club of the German capital. In case you have missed it, very short recap: Babbel didn’t want to stay, manager Preetz wanted him to stay, Babbel said Preetz lied, Preetz said Babbel lied, Babbel sacked, Michael Skibbe hired, Michael Skibbe sacked, Otto Rehhagel hired, not much improved.
For Bayern, it’s all about scoring the first goal (you know the stats, scoring first is a guaranteed win) to break the deadlock. The guests will dominate, Hertha will sit back and hope for a few counter-attacks executed by the three attackers, Adrian Ramos, Raffael and Pierre-Michel Lasogga (a midfield most likely won’t exist). David Alaba will have to continue to support Franck Ribery by running down the left flank, the same counts for Philipp Lahm, albeit he’d better support Arjen Robben. Toni Kroos (or Bastian Schweinsteiger but I expect Kroos) will have to dictate the pace and direction, Luiz Gustavo (or Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, I’m not sure) will have to stop potential counter attacks before anyone even notices, Jerome Boateng will have to win the key tackles, Holger Badstuber will have to intercept passes and play the occasional long ball, the fabulous four up front will have to keep the Hertha defense busy, exhausted and confused and, last but not least, Manuel Neuer will have to stay awake.
Here are the predicted lineups:
Lahm – Boateng – Badstuber – Alaba
Gustavo (Tymoshchuk) – Kroos
Robben – Müller – Ribery
Ramos – Raffael
Niemeyer – Ottl – Perdedaj
Bastians – Janker – Hubnik – Lell
Win and there’s plenty of confidence for the upcoming cup match in Mönchengladbach. Lose and the last two wins are forgotten. I’d prefer option number one.