The new Bundesliga season comes alive with a dramatic clap of thunder as champions Bayern Munich look to make a lightning start against a high-flying Hoffenheim team who arrive in Bavaria issuing a weather warning.
In pre-match words strong enough to whip up a visiting typhoon, Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann declared, “I always strive for the maximum, and the maximum is the title.” His opposite in the Bayern dugout, Niko Kovac, delivered a steadying reply: “The competition will stimulate us,” he said.
Watch: Can Bayern make it seven in-a-row?
Yet who will emerge from this Friday night cyclonic coming together at the Allianz Arena having best braved the footballing whirlwind? Looking at the numbers, the forecast points to an unpredictable classic to get the Bundesliga rolling for 2018/19.
“We have to try to bring joy, passion, team spirit and harmony,” the recently appointed Kovac said ahead of his first Bundesliga match as Bayern coach. The Berlin-born, ex-Croatia international, brought all of the above to Eintracht Frankfurt, the club he led to DFB Cup glory against his current employers last May.
Kovac constructed such defensive stability at the Eagles that the 100 goals they conceded during the 77 top-flight games under his tenure made him statistically their best tactician in that aspect. Intriguingly, however, during that run, the former Bayern midfielder failed to oversee a win against Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim in five games, Eintracht losing two and drawing three.
“The only chance you have against Bayern is if you play boldly. It will be difficult, but we are optimistic,” Nagelsmann said ahead of Hoffenheim’s first ever appearance in a Friday night Bundesliga opener. The division’s youngest-ever coach when he arrived on the Hoffenheim scene as a 28-year-old in February 2016, Nagelsmann has managed to win twice and draw one of his four matches against the record champions.
Hoffenheim even raced into a 2-0 lead within the opening 12 minutes of the teams’ last encounter – a setback on home soil Bayern hadn’t endured for 40 years. Yet on that occasion last January, the Bavarians responded with five goals to win comfortably, an outcome Kovac and his charges would delight in repeating on opening night.
Involved in two of the five goals in that aforementioned triumph, Robert Lewandowski - who turned 30 on Tuesday – ominously declared this week, “I want to go beyond my limits and win even more titles.” The warning will echo loudly with Hoffenheim, their Polish tormentor having netted seven times in 14 meetings against the team from Kraichgau. Added to that, the three-time Bundesliga top-scorer has struck 13 goals past current Hoffenheim custodian Oliver Baumann and has even netted in his last three Matchday 1 openers for Bayern.
The ball back in Nagelsmann’s court, Hoffenheim’s Mr. Motivator explained, “(Bayern) are very good tactically under Niko Kovac and they’re tough to beat. (However), a win is within the realm of possibility.” The Sinsheimers’ overall Bundesliga record since Nagelsmann’s arrival is bettered only by Bayern and Borussia Dortmund. Friday night’s visitors will know they need to produce one more monumental performance if they are to earn what would be a first ever win against such colossal opponents at the Allianz Arena.
As they aim for an unprecedented seventh-straight title this term under the determined gaze of a new man in charge, Bayern are braced for an opening onslaught against last term’s third-placed finishers, themselves determined to light up their young tactician’s last campaign in charge. A storm is brewing in the environs of Bayern’s awesome Allianz Arena, so baton down the hatches and be prepared.