A healthy concoction of old timers and young upstarts take to the stage when Bayern Munich begin their Bundesliga title defence against Hertha Berlin on 16 August. bundesliga.com weighs up the key battles set to rage in the hotly anticipated curtain raiser at the Allianz Arena...
Robert Lewandowski vs. Niklas Stark
Robert Lewandowski needs no introduction after claiming his third top scorer's title and second on the spin last term. Bayern's No.9 hit 22 goals and provided 10 assists in 33 Bundesliga appearances as the record champions clawed back a nine-point deficit on Borussia Dortmund to snaffle up their seven successive league title. The Pole didn't score in Bayern's two league meetings with Hertha, but he did have a 2018/19 goals-per-game ratio of 0.94. He also found the net in the curtain-raising win over Hoffenheim and boasts the most Matchday 1 goals of all active players with seven. Logic suggests he will deliver on the opening weekend.
Watch: All 22 of Lewandowski's 2018/19 Bundesliga goals
It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. And that someone is Niklas Stark. Germany's next top centre-back, the 24-year-old missed Hertha's final four games of 2018/19 with an ankle ligament injury, but is expected to be fit to reclaim his place in the side in the Bavarian capital. It's just as well. Standing at 6’2”, averaging 62.5 per cent for aerial challenges won and nine one-on-one duels per game last season, he might just be the only player in a blue-and-white shirt capable of stifling the all-round menace that is the legendary LewanGOALski.
Joshua Kimmich vs. Dodi Lukebakio
Cutting off the supply line will be no less important because where there are Lewandowski goals, there's usually a Joshua Kimmich assist or two. Kimmich chipped in with 13 all told last season, finishing only one behind Dortmund's Jadon Sancho in the Bundesliga Assist King stakes. The 24-year-old's right-wing raids are almost as famous as the Trojan Horse, even if the surprise element has long gone out of the window. Whether he's got Serge Gnabry or Thomas Müller ahead of him is academic: Kimmich almost always delivers - from open and set plays.
Watch: Joshua Kimmich under the tactical lens
It's a frightening prospect and makes Dodi Lukebakio's task doubly important. While the Belgian is a winger by trade and will look to use his pace to exploit any pockets of space Kimmich might leave in the Bayern half, he'll also be required to help out Maximilian Mittelstädt defensively. That means going toe-to-toe with Kimmich and, in all probability, Gnabry. Happily, the former Fortuna Düsseldorf man has previous against the record champions. Just last season he became the first player in Bundesliga history to score a hat-trick past the great Manuel Neuer...
Kingsley Coman vs. Lukas Klünter
Turf will be churned up in similar proportions on the opposing flank. Kingsley Coman will likely be in the starting blocks for Bayern, baton in hand after Franck Ribery's 12-year reign of terror came to an emotional end in May. The young Frenchman won't have the fondest memories of the opening day, having suffered a recurrence of a career-threatening ankle ligament injury halfway into last season's meeting with Hoffenheim, but proved upon his return what an asset he can be as long as his twinkle-toes can carry him. In his last four games of 2018/19 alone, Coman the Bavarian chimed in with a goal and four assists.
Coman also has pace in abundance (a top speed of 21.64 mph no less), but so too does Lukas Klünter. In fact, the Hertha right-back clocked the fastest speed of any Bundesliga player last term (21.99 mph) and, assuming he’s steered clear of too many rich meats and sugary pastries during the close season, might be even quicker come Matchday 1. Klünter isn’t merely a token speed demon, though. The former Cologne man is a pretty handy defender - he won marginally more of his attempted challenges in 2018/19 than opposite number, Kimmich - and can pick a pass, landing 79.1 per cent of his efforts on the money in his first season on the Hertha books.
Javi Martinez vs. Ondrej Duda
From max power to muscle, Javi Martinez is primed to resume resident battering-ram duties in front of a new-look back four. Bayern suffered three defeats, drew three and won seven of the 13 league games Martinez sat out last season, but lost only one of the 21 matches he featured in. He was conspicuous by his absence as Bayern suffered their first loss of 2018/19 at Hertha on Matchday 6, but won the day in the reverse fixture, powering in a James Rodriguez corner to seal what proved to be a decisive three points in the context of the title race. Somebody shower the Basque boy with praise - he deserves it!
Ondrej Duda might not have had quite so much joy on that famous September night, had Martinez been on the pitch instead of the Bayern bench. The Slovakian scored Hertha's second in a 2-0 win and, to prove it wasn't a fluke, ended the campaign with 11 goals and six assists in his breakout season. His influence on Hertha's game is reflected in the numbers: The Old Lady took 26 points from the 14 games he scored or assisted a goal, compared to 17 in the 18 he was kept quiet and the two he sat out altogether. If Hertha are to produce fireworks on Matchday 1, they'll need to light the blue-and-white touch paper that is Duda.
Watch: Ondrej Duda orchestrated a famous win for Hertha against Bayern last season
Thiago vs. Arne Maier
Hertha will also need to do a job on Bayern’s very own playmaker supreme, if they’re to take anything from the contest. Thiago has occupied every single central midfield position since being prized from the Barcelona ranks by Pep Guardiola in summer 2013, dialling up and toning down his qualities to snugly fit the situation his team requires. The Spaniard’s surgically sharp brain yielded two goals and six assists in 30 appearances last season, while he ranked a league-wide third for most successful passes from open play (93 per cent). Laser-guided or no-look, Thiago’s ability to match and deliver the right ball with his vision and imagination is second to none.
Watch: How Thiago pulls Bayern's strings from midfield
Arne Maier isn’t as flamboyant as Thiago, but that’s not to say he’s any less effective. Averaging 90 per cent in the pass completion department last season, Hertha’s lynchpin between defence and attack is superb at finding space between the opposition lines, for the most part playing the ball before the final ball. He has the composure of a seasoned pro, yet is still only 20 years old and just two full seasons into a budding career dripping with potential, but best of all: he can use BOTH feet.
Who better to defuse the efforts of Bayern’s all-action midfield than a player dubbed 'the next Toni Kroos'?