Bayern may have reigned supreme in 2017, but an otherwise outstanding year was bruised by a couple of kicks to their formidable Bavarian shins. Hoffenheim’s steel-capped toes delivered both blows, making them the only top-flight side to beat the champions twice in the same calendar year.
Watch: Uth double earns Hoffenheim Bayern scalp!
Andre Kramaric’s killer drive sealed the Sinsheimers’ first ever Bundesliga triumph against the men in red last April. On Matchday 3 this season, a Mark Uth double made the difference as Julian Nagelsmann’s men beat Bayern again, extending an unbeaten run against their Bundesliga rivals to three games.
Yet the division’s youngest tactician has yet to face the granddaddy of them all. Instagram may be the photo sharing app that boasts 800 million monthly active users, but Jupp Heynckes likely refers to his photo albums when schooling the game’s students on his successful past.
Among the many similarities between Heynckes and Nagelsmann – ambition, drive to succeed and tactical ingenuity – age is not one of them. There is a difference of 42 years, two months and two weeks between these fine footballing men, with Bayern’s coach having been involved in 641 top-flight matches before Hoffenheim’s main man was even born.
Watch: Heynckes' Bayern tactics explained
While Nagelsmann flicks through his Insta memories of an incredible top-four finish in the Bundesliga last season, Heynckes can turn the pages of a photo book containing images of World Cup and European Championship glory.
A few sections will no doubt be given to that double Bundesliga triumph and glorious UEFA Cup run, and then there were the two Torjägerkanone trophies awarded to Germany’s top goalscorer. The 72-year-old achieved all of the above by Nagelsmann’s current age: 30.
It’s just one more factor that will fascinate at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, where the on-field action seems certain to flow, despite Saturday’s visitors’ faltering rhythm of late.
🎙️ Julian #Nagelsmann— TSG Hoffenheim EN (@achtzehn99_en) January 25, 2018
"Our system, characterized by its boldness, will help us against @FCBayern. We put on a great attack last time, which lead to a goal. We want to win and that always helps us."#FCBTSG ⚽️
"Taking 11 points from the last ten games is not good enough. We know we have to improve; our performance last year set the bar very high," Nagelsmann explained recently.
Currently ninth in the standings, Hoffenheim have won just once in their last five Bundesliga games, scoring only four times during that sequence and never managing more than a single goal in a given game.
"We haven’t made good enough use of our chances," Nagelsmann continued. "We have to get that second goal more frequently so that our opponents don’t have a chance to get back into the game," striker Uth added. "We must get that desire we played with before back … we want to qualify for Europe once again this year."
Watch: The formula behind Hoffenheim's surprise top-four finish in 2016/17
Bayern have ambitions of their own as they seek to extend a 31-game unbeaten run at the Allianz Arena. "[We want to] put in a good performance, get another three points in the bag and move another step closer to our goals," was midfielder Arturo Vidal’s take ahead of a 20th Bundesliga meeting between these teams.
It’s a fixture that is still young, but one that has quickly gathered a gritty rivalry and seen familiar faces change allegiances. Over the past year and a half, Sebastian Rudy, Niklas Süle and Sandro Wagner have swapped Sinsheim for Munich while Bayern acquisition Serge Gnabry is currently on loan at Hoffenheim.
"This is just going to be a normal game for me," Gnabry explained prior to the contest. "I'm with Hoffenheim now and look to give everything for the team. We have to score points in Munich so we can stay [in touch with the top positions]."
Watch: Serge Gnabry's dazzling contender for Goal of the Season
Should maximum points be sought by Die Kraichgauer once again, they will have to handcuff Thomas Müller to a bicycle rack outside the stadium. The Bayern ace chalked up his 100th goal for the club in last weekend’s 4-2 win against Werder Bremen, meaning that in the 78 games in which he has scored for the Bavarians, they have never lost.
"We’re looking forward to the challenge," Naglesmann responded, as the coach contemplated a tactical concoction that could deliver yet another photo finish to a growing collection against Germany's record champions.