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18.12.2020Bundesliga

Our next opponents: Flick gets creative

There couldn't be a bigger game. The Werkself entertain second-placed Bayern Munich as league leaders on Saturday 19 December (kick-off: 18.30 CET). What condition are the record champions in going into the final match of a memorably successful year?
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Position

FC Bayern's game at the BayArena marks the end of one of the most successful years in the club's history. Under head coach Hansi Flick, the top club in Germany had the best second half of the season in the history of the Bundesliga, beat the Werkself in the DFB Cup final and completed the second treble in the club's history by winning the Champions League finals tournament in Lisbon. In this year affected by the coronavirus crisis, the preseason was short and the packed programme of fixtures up to Christmas has seen a number of first-team regulars sidelined through injury. That has meant Bayern have not always been as dominant in the Bundesliga as in the first half of 2020 and they have sometimes dropped points where it would not normally be expected.

Thanks to the hard-fought 2-1 win against VfL Wolfsburg on Wednesday, Bayern are within striking distance of the Werkself with just one point less and an away win would see them go back to the top of the table.

Personnel

Flick got creative against Wolfsburg. He had no choice. In addition to Joshua Kimmich, his partner in the Bayern midfield Leon Goretzka was also sidelined through injury. As Javi Martinez had to miss out as well due to a muscle injury, Flick changed from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Corentin Tolisso as the sole holding midfielder and Thomas Müller playing in a more defensive role. Will it be the same against the Werkself? It could come down to Kimmich and Goretzka. The two are in with a chance of playing against the Werkself, with the latter, Bochum-born player more likely to appear. Martinez will definitely miss Saturday's game.

Otherwise, the Bayern injury list has definitely eased with regular starter Alphonso Davies returning last week after recovering from an ankle injury. It will be interesting to see whether the Canadian will start against the Werkself and how the back four will line up. Flick opted for a somewhat unusual solution against Wolfsburg and played central defender Niklas Süle on the right side of defence. He did a good job and could get the thumbs-up from Flick at right back against the Black and Reds – Bayern had changed to an unfamiliar back three with Süle as the right-sided centre back. "We have to be creative at the moment," declared Flick.

Performers

In contrast to the centre of midfield and the defence, Flick does not have to find creative solutions up front. Indeed, he is spoilt for choice. Leroy Sané is fit again after injury and Bayern have Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman all in impressive form. Flick played all four against Wolfsburg – pure firepower. This quartet are joined by probably the best centre forward in the world: Robert Lewandowski remains the saviour for Bayern on many occasions and he won the best men's player award on Thursday night. No doubt, the Pole will be looking to live up to his new title at the BayArena. So the Werkself defence can expect a tough challenge with Lewandowski breaking the 250 Bundesliga goals mark on Wednesday. It appears almost superfluous to mention he is the top scorer in the league with 15 goals from 11 games and Bayern have by far the best attack in the top-flight with 37 goals so far this term.

Problems

Numbers you don't normally see from FC Bayern: The team from Munich have gone 1-0 down in the last six Bundesliga fixtures. It does say a lot for the quality of the record champions that they did not lose any of those games but the expectations in defence are different from other teams. "We've rarely kept a clean sheet," said goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after the game against Wolfsburg. He last kept the ball out of his net for the full 90 minutes in the Bundesliga game against Eintracht Frankfurt back in October. "Sometimes it's the little things that go wrong." Bayern have conceded 18 goals already – only the seventh least in the league. And that is despite Neuer being in exceptional form for months and regularly denying great chances for the opposition with world-class saves.

Prediction

In spite of several players sidelined and minor drops in form this season, the reigning Champions League winners are still probably the strongest team in the world. They were too dominant in the matches in Europe's premier club competition and their performance levels impressive in those games where it mattered. And another one is coming up on Saturday with the big match against Bayer 04 – and Bayern will definitely be looking to do all they can to reclaim top spot in the Bundesliga.

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