Wolfsburg - A UEFA Champions League tie against Arsenal FC looms on the horizon, but Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern Munich will have to put their thoughts of Europe to one side as their domestic campaign continues at VfL Wolfsburg this Friday (kick-off 20:30 CET).
Old stomping ground
All eyes will be on Mario Mandzukic, the Croatian striker who returns to his former haunt looking to add to the 14 goals he's netted already this season. "I have the feeling it's going to be a special evening for me," said the 26-year-old. "I had a great time there."
Mandzukic has been a key factor in the league leaders' record-breaking form and though he "always follows what [Wolfsburg] do", the target man clear on where his loyalties lie nowadays. "I play for Bayern now and I'm capable of shutting out my emotions," stated the Croatia international, who netted twice in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Though Mario Gomez was handed a rare start in the 4-0 drubbing of FC Schalke 04 last weekend, Mandzukic is expected to return on Friday. Joint-top goalscorer in the league alongside Robert Lewandowski and Stefan Kießling, the 26-year-old is proud of what he's brought to the table at Bayern. "I always believed in myself. Up until now things have gone really well for the team and myself. Bayern have an unbelievably talented squad and I'm delighted to be a part of it," he said.
Wolfsburg have collected just ten points from a possible 30 on home soil this season and in his pre-match press conference, head coach Dieter Hecking admitted his side had an uphill struggle ahead of them. "It's clear that we're going to have to do a lot of things right in order to stand a chance against them. Simply put, they have a fantastic team," said the 48-year-old, who will have a full squad at his disposal.
Despite the fact that the Bavarians have a mammoth 15-point lead at the top of the table, Hecking believes "we possess the quality to create one or two chances ourselves". However, the former 1. FC Nuremberg coach's primary concern is remaining compact in defence. "If we allow ourselves to make three or four errors against this side, then you don't have to be a genius to predict how the game will go."
Die Münchner are set to be without first-team regular Javi Martinez (bruised toe), whose inclusion against Arsenal is also questionable. For head coach Jupp Heynckes, though, the Spaniard's absence is no major setback. According to the 67-year-old, it's no secret that Bayern have "top replacements for top players", with Luiz Gustavo, who before his injury was "potentially our best midfielder", set to replace the former Athletic Club Bilbao star.
The Reds have enjoyed an emphatic 2013 so far, winning all four of their encounters and racking up eleven goals without reply - and Heynckes is keen for his side to maintain that form: "We've been very good since the winter break,"but I'm not allowing any sloppiness from my players. We're highly motivated and closing in on our biggest target - the Bundesliga title."
Wolfsburg: Benaglio - Fagner, Naldo, Madlung, M. Schäfer - Träsch, Polak - Vieirinha, Diego, Perisic - Dost
Bayern: Neuer - Lahm, van Buyten, Dante, Alaba - Luiz Gustavo, Schweinsteiger - T. Müller, Kroos, Ribery - Mandzukic