With both teams facing injury worries ahead of their Matchday 23 meeting, FC Bayern München's trip to VfL Wolfsburg promises to live up to its billing as one of the most exciting games of the season.
bundesliga.com will have live text coverage of Bayern's trip to Wolfsburg on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola's side will travel to Lower Saxony with limited options in defence. Injuries to Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber have forced the Catalan into some emergency reshuffling of late, with makeshift centre-back Joshua Kimmich set to make another appearance in Bayern's back line at the Volkswagen Arena.
The league leaders’ defensive vulnerability might set alarm bells ringing amongst more pessimistic Bayern supporters. It is, after all, only a year since Wolfsburg thrashed the Bavarians 4-1 to briefly open up last season's title race.
Fear of Lewandowski
Much has happened since then, however. Bayern knocked the Wolves out of the DFB Cup before Christmas, but far more notable was the game between the two sides at the Allianz Arena on Matchday 6. After Daniel Caligiuri had given Dieter Hecking’s team a narrow half-time lead, Robert Lewandowski arrived off the bench to provide one of the greatest individual performances the Bundesliga has ever seen: Five goals in less than nine minutes from the 27-year-old turned the game on its head, and saw Lewandowski break a whole host of records in one fell swoop.
Lewandowski's form has shown no sign of abating since then. With nine goals and four braces in six games so far in 2016, the Polish sharpshooter remains in the form of his life, while his strike partner Thomas Müller has also been in irresistible mood of late. To say that the Wolfsburg defence will have its hands full would be the understatement of the century.
The home side insist they are not scared of Bayern’s prolific strike partnership, however. In-form midfielder Julian Draxler, for one, was cool when assessing his team's chances: “We have lost to them twice this season, and hopefully we've learned from that. We're definitely improving, and we'll go about this game like any other and try to win it.”
Wave of flu
They may be improving, but Wolfsburg's general form of late has been far from perfect. Though unbeaten in their last three games, they have won only three of their last ten in all competitions. On top of that, the Wolves have their own personnel issues, with a bout of flu having hit the squad hard in recent weeks.
With first choice centre forward Bas Dost also out injured, Wolfsburg will have to work hard if they are to stop Bayern going home with all three points. “It's important that some players get back to full fitness for this game, so that we have as many options as possible on the bench,” said Wolfsburg sporting director Klaus Allofs.
A good omen?
Strength in depth and a surplus of energy would certainly serve Wolfsburg well on Matchday 22. With Bayern returning from a tough UEFA Champions League fixture against Juventus in Turin, the Wolves will hope that they can at least have the edge in terms of stamina.
They will, however, also need the guiding hand of Lady Luck. One good omen in that regard is goalkeeper Koen Casteels, who has not lost a single game for Wolfsburg this season. Currently standing in for the injured Diego Benaglio, the Belgian custodian has played in eight fixtures in total, including Wolfsburg's triumph over Bayern in the DFL Supercup in August. Despite the blow he sustained against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 22, Casteels is expected to start for Wolfsburg against Guardiola’s troops.
Much at stake
Bayern, who have won nine of their last 10 games, will be looking to maintain their eight-point lead over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table with a win in Lower Saxony. Defeat could see that gap narrowed to five, however, giving Dortmund the chance to blow open the title race once more when they host Bayern in the latest instalment of Der Klassiker on Matchday 25..
A loss for Wolfsburg, meanwhile, could see Hecking’s charges fall as many as six points behind the Champions League places and potentially drop to tenth in the table. A positive result against Bayern, though, could prove the turning point in a rocky season.