Munich - Fresh from their record-breaking exploits in the UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München host cellar-dwellers Eintracht Braunschweig in a top versus bottom encounter of David and Goliath proportions on Saturday (kick-off 15:30 CET).
Bayern wary of underdogs
Upsets aren’t unprecedented in fixtures between the two sides at opposite ends of the table and accordingly FC Bayern are refusing to rest on their laurels following a draining 3-1 win in Moscow during midweek. “The trip to Moscow was tiring,” said head coach Pep Guardiola. “We’ll have to see what kind of shape the team is in."
Currently in the midst of a record-breaking 38-game unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga, Bayern have scored in their last 50 consecutive top-flight matches, but were keen to play down their invincible tag ahead of Saturday’s encounter. “First against last is always a strange game,” said Arjen Robben. “You’ve got to play with total concentration, ensure you don’t get caught out and never let up.” Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was also quick to warn against underestimating the Lions: “They’ll be highly motivated. Anything can happen.”
These two sides haven’t faced off in Germany’s top-flight in almost 30 years, but Guardiola underlined his “respect” for Saturday’s opponents several times during his pre-match press conference. “They’ve played very, very well in a lot of games,” said the Spaniard, who knows his side face a tough test following a strenuous week. “They won in Wolfsburg and against Leverkusen, whilst losing narrowly to Dortmund and Schalke. Against the big teams they make life very difficult.”
Absentees in abundance
The record titleholders' midweek exploits took their toll in more ways than one after it was confirmed that club captain Philipp Lahm had suffered damage to his right thigh during the game against PFC CSKA Moscow. As a result the 30-year-old adds to a lengthy, star-studded injury list which already includes Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro and Holger Badstuber. However, Mario Mandzukic and Diego Contento are in contention to return this weekend.
Meanwhile, Braunschweig head coach Torsten Lieberknecht has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the “toughest game of the season,” with Dennis Kruppke (calf), Ken Reichel (knee) and Jan Hochscheidt (thigh) all unavailable. Eintracht are yet to pick up three points in 18 previous trips to the Bavarian capital and Lieberknecht was pulling no punches when it came to enormity of the task at hand on Saturday: “To call this a massive challenge would be an understatement.”
'Not waving the white flag'
Eintracht’s mini-upswing in form came to an end courtesy of a narrow 1-0 loss to fellow strugglers SC Freiburg last weekend, but even so, the visitors are refusing to rule themselves out entirely on Saturday. “Every team in the world wants to push Bayern as close as possible, but it would be presumptuous to say we can beat them,” continued Lieberknecht. “My players are looking forward to the game though, and they’re not about to start waving the white flag before the match even kicks off.”
That said, with the visitors sitting at the foot of the standings with just eight points to their name, their situation could not be much more foreboding ahead of their trip to Bavaria. “Bayern Munich don’t have any weaknesses and we’ll have to do something completely out of the ordinary if we we’re to take anything from this game,” Lieberknecht concluded. “We need to be at our very best, but I can’t expect superhuman feats from my team. What I can demand of them is that they perform at the highest possible level.”
FC Bayern: Neuer - Rafinha, van Buyten, Dante, Alaba - Javi Martinez - Götze, Thiago, Kroos, Robben - Mandzukic
Braunschweig: Davari - Elabdellaoui, Bicakcic, Dogan, Perthel - Kratz, Vrancic, Theuerkauf - Bellarabi, Boland - Kumbela