Stuttgart - Fresh from easing their way back into the Bundesliga swing of things with victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach last Friday, FC Bayern München travel to VfB Stuttgart on Wednesday (kick-off 20:00 CET) aiming to further extend their lead at the league summit.
The encounter is the rescheduled Matchday 17 fixture that was postponed due to Bayern's participation at the in December, and yet despite their current ten-point advantage and game in hand over the competition, Pep Guardiola's troops are unlikely to go easy on their struggling hosts. Victory would stretch their lead to thirteen points, a margin that no side has ever enjoyed at this stage of a Bundesliga season in the league's 51-year history. Ample motivation for the Bavarians then, if any more were needed.
"We've got a great chance to keep going and build on our lead," said captain ahead of the tie. "It's up to us. If we play as well as we can do then we'll go home with all three points. We've picked up points whenever we've played there in recent years, but it's never been easy." Indeed the last time the Swabians beat Bayern in the league on home turf was as far back as November 2007.
The likelihood of a repeat appears remote: Bayern have now gone 42 league games without defeat and have kept five clean sheets in their last six Bundesliga outings, a feat that is all the more impressive given the length of their injury list. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were ruled out on Tuesday, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daniel van Buyten and Javi Martinez are also all unavailable. Leading scorer Mario Mandzukic is expected to return to the squad after being left out against Gladbach, although the in-form Mario Götze is likely to continue up front.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds in the visitors' favour, Guardiola struck a cautious tone in his pre-match comments, warning his side against "an aggressive" and "very focused" home team that are "always dangerous in the opening 15 minutes." Götze and Co. would do well to heed his advice, as nine of Stuttgart's 30 league goals so far this term have come in the opening quarter of an hour.
Nevertheless, in spite of Mohammed Abdellaoue's 11th minute opener at home to Mainz last weekend, Stuttgart succumbed to a 2-1 defeat, their fourth reverse in their last five Bundesliga games that has left them just three points above the relegation zone.
Accordingly, the players are eager to make amends. "We see this game as a chance," said Christian Gentner. "We want to win back some credit with our fans with a good performance. We didn't do what we set out to do against Mainz and we want to be better this time."
To that end, Stuttgart coach Thomas Schneider is likely to continue fielding Abdellaoue in attack alongside Vedad Ibisevic, with teenage midfielder Timo Werner charged with unlocking the notoriously stubborn Bayern defence. New Zealand international Marco Rojas will have to wait a while longer to make his Bundesliga debut meanwhile, as he continues an individual training programme.
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich - Sakai, Schwaab, Rüdiger, Rausch - Leitner, Gentner, Harnik, Werner - Abdellaoue, Ibisevic
FC Bayern: Neuer - Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Lahm - Müller, Thiago, Kroos, Shaqiri - Götze
Relive the breathtaking eight-goal thriller between these two sides in 2010, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: