Champions FC Bayern München return to action on Saturday against 1899 Hoffenheim, who they beat 2-1 on Matchday 11
Champions FC Bayern München return to action on Saturday against 1899 Hoffenheim, who they beat 2-1 on Matchday 11

No letting up for Bayern against Hoffenheim

Munich - It’s back to business for FC Bayern München’s on Saturday, as Pep Guardiola’s champions host free-scoring 1899 Hoffenheim at the Allianz Arena (kick-off 14:30 GMT/15:30 CET).

‘We must keep going’

The Bavarians became the first team in Bundesliga history to secure the title in March with a 3-1 win at Hertha Berlin in midweek, but the record titleholders are in no mood to take their foot off the pedal in their remaining seven games of the 2013/14 season, not least against a Hoffenheim side that are second only to Bayern in this season’s scoring charts.

At Friday’s pre-match press conference, Guardiola expressed his delight at winning his first Bundesliga title, but also stressed the need for Bayern to keep their eye on the ball in the coming days. “I’m delighted, but we have to keep going,” said the Spaniard. “I know how many goals Hoffenheim have scored this season. They have extremely dangerous strikers and a very, very good team. It’ll be great for the fans to see two teams that are trying to win the match.”

Nonetheless, Guardiola did admit to having one eye on Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg against English Premier League champions Manchester United FC. “We have our first final on Tuesday,” he said. “The most important thing for this club was winning the Bundesliga. We respect the Bundesliga and have to play as well as we possibly can [against Hoffenheim], but we want to prepare as well as possible for the game against Manchester United.”

Starke to start

Guardiola confirmed that Tom Starke will be given a rare start against Markus Gisdol’s side on Saturday, with first-choice keeper Manuel Neuer dropping to the bench. Neuer could be joined by several other first-team regulars who started the match against Hertha, such as captain Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben. “Starke deserves to play,” added Guardiola. “He trains well, he’s a fantastic guy and always helps the team. He will play more often towards the end of the season.”

Hoffenheim coach Gisdol is expected to welcome back striker Sven Schipplock, who missed the last three games through suspension and injury. Defender Niklas Süle, who sat out the Kraichgauer’s 3-1 victory over Hannover 96 on Wednesday, is set to return to the heart of defence. Jens Grahl is likely to continue in goal, with Koen Casteels having to settle for a place on the bench.

Müller ‘Bayern’s best’

Hoffenheim have continued to set hearts racing this season: An incredible 119 goals have been scored in matches involving the Sinsheim club, with Roberto Firmino, Kevin Volland and Anthony Modeste contributing more than half of the 60 scored so far. Worryingly, however, Hoffenheim also have the worst defence in the top flight – hardly ideal ahead of a trip to the champions.

“Bayern have the strongest squad any club team has ever had,” said Gisdol, who singled out midfield all-rounder Thomas Müller for special praise. “If there’s one player I hope doesn’t play against us tomorrow, it’s Müller. For me, he’s Bayern’s best player. He drives me crazy! He’s unstoppable during most games.” Despite the unenviable task facing Gisdol’s side, captain Andreas Beck is relishing the prospect of taking on the Bundesliga champions in their own back yard: “We’re looking forward to the game, even though we know it’s going to be incredibly difficult.”

Possible line-ups:

Bayern: Starke – Rafinha, Javi Martinez, Dante, Contento – Thiago, T. Kroos – Shaqiri, T. Müller, Ribery - Götze

Hoffenheim: Grahl - Johnson, Strobl, Süle, Beck - Rudy, Polanski, Salihovic - Roberto Firmino - Volland, Modeste

Matthew Howarth

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Take a look at Bayern’s top ten goals of the season so far, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: