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18.03.2023Bundesliga

Our next opponents: A class of their own in almost all areas

Bayern Munich visit the BayArena as league leaders on Sunday 19 March (kick-off: 17.30 CET). As ever, the squad of the record champions is outstanding this season. Coach Julian Nagelsmann is looking to confirm the impressive form of his team over recent weeks in Leverkusen but he will have to manage without striker Erich Maxim Choupo-Moting on Sunday. The lowdown on our next opponents...
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Position

It is really no surprise that Bayern are in such good shape. They have few weak phases during a season. One came before the match against the Werkself in the Hinrunde. When Bayer 04 travelled to Munich, Julian Nagelsmann's team had not won in four games in succession (three draws, one defeat). That was followed by a 4-0 win against the Black and Reds and a sharp improvement in form. The record champions have been top of the table since matchday 13. And their stats are once again impressive: The table toppers have won eight out of their last nine games. The 3-2 defeat at bogey team Borussia Mönchengladbach in the middle of February this year was a one-off and the only defeat for FCB in the most recent 25 games (20 wins, four draws). Bayern still have a chance of winning three competitions following an impressive win over two legs against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League (1-0, 2-0) and now they face Manchester City in the quarter-finals. They are also in the last eight in the DFB Cup with the tie against SC Freiburg on 4 April.

The fact it has been very tight at the top of the league for a long time is down to the consistently impressive performances from several teams this term: SC Freiburg, RB Leipzig, Union Berlin and, of course, Borussia Dortmund. BVB are currently the biggest challenges to the top spot and after matchday 24 there were just two points behind Bayern while the gap to SC Freiburg, Union Berlin and RB Leipzig has increased to seven points. Last week, the team from Munich maintained their position at the top of the league with an incredible 5-3 win in the Bavarian derby against FC Augsburg. The early lead for Augsburg was turned into a 4-1 lead for FCB before half-time with goals from João Cancelo, Benjamin Pavard (2) and Leroy Sané. "The response is the most important thing, we really got going for 30 minutes," said Julian Nagelsmann about the crucial phase of the game. Nagelsmann was annoyed by conceding two other goals in the second half. The 35-year-old coach was happy after a successful week with wins against PSG and Augsburg: "We did our job but we can't afford to ease off."

Personnel

With the exception of the long-term injured players Lucas Hernández (torn cruciate) and Manuel Neuer (lower leg fracture) plus Eric Choupo-Moting, who was sidelined against Augsburg due to back problems, Julian Nagelsmann has a full squad to choose from for Sunday in Leverkusen. As in recent games, Nagelsmann may well rely on a back three. Benjamin Pavard, scorer of a brace against Augsburg and the player with the most successful challenges in the league, received special praise for his performances in recent weeks. "He is one of our outstanding players," said Hasan Salihamidzic, member of the board the sport at FC Bayern. That may also be due to the Frenchman no longer playing as a full-back but instead more centrally in the defence. The most central position here is occupied by Dayot Upamecano and the Dutchman Matthijs de Ligt is first choice next to him on the left. Alternatively, winter signing Daley Blind (from Ajax) and Josip Stanisic are options. The key players on the flanks are Kingsley Coman (left) and Alphonso Davies or Joao Cancelo. The Portuguese player on loan from Manchester City scored his first goal for Bayern against Augsburg.  

The Germany players Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are an established duo in central midfield. Nagelsmann is particularly spoiled for choice in attack. Sadio Mané returned to the starting eleven against Augsburg for the first time in over four months. The Senegal international suffered a tibia injury in September 2022 and has only made three substitute appearances this year. It is clear that the 30-year-old is not yet fully recovered. "It's not easy to find a rhythm after an injury and that comes with games," said Mané. He completes an attacking sextet without compare in the Bundesliga. Jamal Musiala (11 goals), Eric Choupo-Moting (10), Serge Gnabry (9), Leroy Sané (7), Thomas Müller (4) and Mané (6): These six players have scored 47 goals – most other Bundesliga clubs do not come close to this number of goals as a team.

Performers

Top stats wherever you look: Most number of goals scored 71 (second in this ranking are Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig with 49 goals each, Bayer 04 are fifth with 43 goals), by far the most shots on goal (455), the highest shot accuracy (56%), the most big chances (90) and shots against the woodwork (15) – Bayern are a class of their own in attack.

But they are also leading in many areas in defence. FC Bayern have conceded the fewest goals (25), headed goals (three) and goals from counter-attacks (zero). They have played the most passes (14,937, the Werkself have made 12,048), have the best pass completion rate (87%), committed the fewest fouls (215), have the fewest yellow cards (33) and are the team with the highest number of successful challenges (54%). And the Werkself beware: FC Bayern are first out of the block in the league. Twelve goals in the opening 15 minutes represents another top number as do 47 goals in the first 45 minutes (Bayer 04:17).

Problems

With a squad of this quality there are always cases of hardship regarding the line-up. Even though coach Julian Nagelsmann almost has everyone on board at the moment. The two Germany international players Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané have been on the bench often recently. Both returned to the starting line-up against Augsburg and Gnabry responded after the game to the criticism of him in the weeks before: "It’s somehow part of it all but sometimes it's too crass. At some point it’s also enough." Nagelsmann backed the two forwards and he said in relation to Leroy Sané: "We don't want to change his character. We have to bring his strengths onto the pitch, which are exceptional. He is among the best players in Europe. We simply need him. That's why you have to have a certain leeway. The same applies to Serge." Other coaches would be happy to have those sorts of "problems". José Mourinho, coach of Europa League quarter-finalists AS Roma, recently said after the 2-0 win for Bayern against PSG: "When I see that players like Mané, Gnabry and Sané can come off the bench then I'm a little bit jealous."

Prediction

Bayern visit Leverkusen in an impressive run of form with their last three games ending in victory. "We are well prepared and have been able to get some rest," said Hasan Salihamidzic. “We are going there to carry on where we left off recently. Then there's the international break. The Leverkusen game is really important for us." April will be "a very exciting month" as Julian Nagelsmann put it. There are eight games in four weeks including the big matches in the league against rivals Borussia Dortmund and SC Freiburg at the beginning of the month. Bayern could take big steps forwards towards an eleventh league title in succession. And, of course, they are still in the running in the DFB Cup and the Champions League.

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