Munich - FC Bayern München could take a significant step towards retaining their Bundesliga title when they host third-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Saturday evening (kick-off: 17:30 GMT/18:30 CET).
Three wins from the title
The two teams enjoyed contrasting fortunes in the UEFA Champions League this week - Pep Guardiola's side reached the quarter-finals courtesy of a 3-1 aggregate victory over Arsenal FC, while Leverkusen were knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain FC - but there was enough about Leverkusen's display in the French capital to suggest Sami Hyypiä’s team are capable of upsetting the runaway leaders at the Allianz Arena.
The visitors can also take confidence from the fact that they were the last team to record a league victory over the Bavarians, who are 20 points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund with just ten games of the current season remaining. Goals from Stefan Kießling and Sidney Sam, either side of Mario Mandzukic's equaliser, secured the points for Bayer 04 back in October 2012, and Guardiola knows his players will have to be on full alert to keep Leverkusen's potent attack at bay on Saturday.
"Leverkusen are one of the strongest teams in the league away from home – they are very organised defensively and are strong on the counterattack," said Guardiola at Friday's pre-match press conference. "They won in Dortmund and showed their mettle in Paris in midweek. We are three victories away from defending our title and we're counting on the full support of our fans. It's never easy after playing in the Champions League."
Agony of choice
Bayern, who will don a limited edition jersey in aid of the charity Deutsche Sporthilfe on Saturday, have no new injury concerns ahead of the match with the Rhinelanders. Rafinha, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Müller could return to the starting line-up after starting Tuesday's match with Arsenal on the bench. Toni Kroos, meanwhile, has been suffering from a minor illness and could be rested for the clash against the club he made 43 appearances for during an eighteen-month loan spell between 2009 and 2010.
Midfielder Lars Bender is in contention for a return to the Leverkusen side after missing Wednesday's last-16 second leg and Matchday 24's draw with Hannover 96 with a muscular injury. Jens Hegeler and Robbie Kruse remain long-term absentees with ankle and knee ligament injuries respectively, but Emir Spahic is likely to start after serving a one-match suspension in Paris.
’Respect, but not scared’
Hyypiä, whose team have not won in the league since a 1-0 victory at Borussia Mönchengladbach last month, feels his team are capable of causing an upset in Munich. "If we take to the pitch with the right attitude, we can make life very difficult for Bayern," said the 40-year-old. "If we can hold our own against Paris for as long as we did, we can do the same against Bayern."
Keeper Bernd Leno, who was widely praised for his performance against the Ligue 1 leaders at the Parc des Princes, shared his manager's views. "We respect Bayern, but we're not scared of them," the Germany Under-21 stopper said. "I'll have a lot of work to do in Munich, but we're not going just to throw the game away. Even if it's only a point, we want to get something from the game."
FC Bayern: Neuer - Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Lahm, Schweinsteiger - Götze, Thiago, Ribery - Müller
Leverkusen: Leno - Hilbert, Toprak, Spahic, Boenisch - Bender, Reinartz, Can - Castro, Kießling, Son
Find out how Leverkusen have fared in previous encounters with the record title-holders on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: