Goal.com looks ahead to a must win game for the champions against surprise package Hannover...
The international break may have provided Bayern with a respite from Bundesliga action but it has not led to any of the pressure subsiding as the club cannot hide the inescapable fact that their worst ever start to a season has left their title defence hanging by a thread. Bayern are a full 13 points behind leaders Mainz and perhaps more ominously, 10 behind Borussia Dortmund, now the bookmakers' favourites to be champions. Louis van Gaal's quest, initially for a recovery, has not been aided by a mammoth injury list, which means the depth of Bayern's squad, just like the club's reserves of mental fortitude, will be stretched to the limit.
"There are exceptionally many players, many important players who are out of action. It is quite clear that this is a difficult situation," remarked Toni Kroos.
"We are conscious of the situation and know that we now have to put together a run of results. The team are completely focused on the task."
Despite acknowledging Bayern's troubles, Kroos also felt, perhaps with some justification, that Bayern would still be more than a match for their opponents this weekend in terms of personnel, despite their considerable absentee list.
"Ultimately when we see the starting line-ups, we are better in every position than Hannover."
For all the bluster of Kroos, Bayern's supposed individual quality has counted for little this season. The team's impotence in front of goal is such that with the back of the net found on only five occasions, the champions have the worst attack in the Bundesliga so far this term. The criticism has centred not only around misfiring Miroslav Klose, who has not scored a home goal since January 15 but also about the style of play, with possession being the goal for its own sake, rather than a means to an end. That will have to change, starting tomorrow.
Winning Without The Deadly Duo In Tandem
In a survey conducted by German sports magazine Kicker before the season, Hannover were among the five sides most fancied for the drop. Die Roten had gone from a team who had finished in the top half of the table (eighth in 2007-08) to a side in steady decline, as they finished 15th last term. However, in keeping with the nature of this topsy-turvy start to the season, they have been another of the Bundesliga's surprise packages, if a lot less spoken of than the likes of Mainz and Dortmund.
Mirko Slomka has been quietly rebuilding a reputation that was slightly if unfairly tarnished after a harsh sacking from the ever ambitious Schalke 04. The club's current third place has been constructed on the foundations of that dying breed in our game - a deadly strike partnership. Didier Ya Konan has been joined upfront by one of the signings of the summer, the Norwegian striking sensation Mohamed Abdellaoue who has shone for both club and country this season. Unfortunately for the man they call Moa, he picked up an adductor problem on international duty in midweek and will be unable to strut his stuff at the Allianz Arena. Cue a huge sigh of relief from Martin Demichelis et al. A further blow is the injury to Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz who has rejuvenated his career after a difficult spell towards the end of his time with Middlesbrough.
Hannover may embark upon the long trip south to Munich in the absence of pressure but they will certainly not be taking Bayern lightly. "Beware the wounded tiger" seems to be the mantra judging by the words of young midfielder Manuel Schmiedebach who gave his first press conference today.
"At Bayern it is always to be expected that no matter who takes the field for them, someone will conjure up a top performance."
Slomka has made his intentions clear that Hannover will look to frustrate Bayern and scrap for every ball, following the blueprint of Koeln who managed so effectively to stunt Bayern at the Allianz. Hannover may only be fleetingly in a Champions League spot but one thing is for sure, Slomka does not want to be the coach of the team against whom Bayern rediscovered their winning form.
Bayern are without a whole host of players with chief absentees Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben being joined on the sidelines by captain Mark Van Bommel, Ivica Olic, Miroslav Klose, Breno, Diego Contento and David Alaba. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Daniel Van Buyten should be fit enough to play despite carrying knocks. Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Martin Demichelis are on standby to deputise.
Probable Starting XI: Butt - Lahm, Van Buyten, Badstuber, Braafheid - Schweinsteiger, Pranjic - Altintop, Mueller, Kroos - Gomez
Like the champions, Hannover have their own fair share of injury concerns, starting in goal. Floran Fromlowitz is a doubt with a bruised pelvis while in-form centre-half Emanuel Pogatetz is doubtful with a muscular problem. Definitely out are Mohamed Abdellaoue, Karim Haggui, Mario Eggimann, Leon Andreasen, Altin Lala and long-term casualty Carlitos. The good news is that DaMarcus Beasley and Didier Ya Konan have both returned to training.
Probable Starting XI: Fromlowitz - Cherundolo, Avevor, Schulz, Rausch - Schmiedebach, Pinto - Stoppelkamp, Stindl, Djakpa - Ya Konan