Fresh from arguably the best performance of any European team this season, Bayern Munich return to domestic matters with a heavyweight clash against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. Away to a Manchester City side with aspirations of competing in the final stages of the Champions League, the Bavarians dismantled the opposition in a display of far greater dominance than the 3-1 score line might suggest. It was the ideal early vindication of what Pep Guardiola has brought to a side that claimed an unprecedented treble last season.
There had been some early criticism that the former Barcelona boss was over-tinkering with a winning formula. But on his 100th day in charge Guardiola showed that the relentless passing and even more intense pressing from the front that he has evolved the side with will be difficult for any team to conquer this season.
While not always at their best, it has been an impressive start to the Bundesliga season for the champions as well. Just two points have been dropped and only two goals conceded. That strong record still leaves Bayern behind Borussia Dortmund on goal difference and only ahead of Saturday’s opponents by a single point.
Leverkusen had their own win in the Champions League in midweek, with a superb injury time free-kick from Jens Hegeler giving them a potentially crucial 2-1 victory over Real Sociedad. It has been a fine start to the season for Sami Hyypia’s men, especially given the loss of Andre Schurrle and Daniel Carvajal during the summer. Striker Stefan Kiessling has again been pivotal, with five Bundesliga goals already to his name. Yet, despite his continued form and hints that his exile could be ended, the 29-year-old has again been left out of Germany coach Joachim Low’s latest squad.
Bayer Leverkusen (probable)
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D: Hilbert, Toprak, Wollschied, Can
M: Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes
F: Sam, Kiessling, Son
Bayern Munich (probable)
D: Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba
Robben, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Ribery
Prediction: Bayern were outstanding against Manchester City, but it also shouldn’t be completely overlooked how they were aided by individual errors and tactical naivety by the Premier League side. With Thomas Muller playing as a false nine, Guardiola’s objective was to control the game through possession, which the early goal enabled them to do without having to push in search of goals. Away at Leverkusen, it will be intriguing to see whether the Bayern coach goes with the same formula or looks to have a more orthodox penalty-box presence with Mario Mandzukic.
Bayer will hope to compete in midfield with the in-form Simon Rolfes alongside Lars Bender and Stefan Reinartz. The two wide forwards are also likely to drop back and try and stifle Bayern. Also key, though, will be for Leverkusen to counter-attack with purpose. It should be a closely fought contest but ultimately Bayern have the quality to breach a Leverkusen defense that can look suspect at the very highest level.
Bauer Leverkusen 1-2 Bayern Munich
Where to watch: The Bundesliga contest will kick-off from the BayArena at 12.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Gol TV. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.