After a week of near heartbreak, FC Bayern returns to league action against Leverkusen, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Bayern's 'Neverkusen' counterparts, lies third in the table and has given away every opportunity presented to them to jump to second this season.
Bayern was humbled in midweek badly by Arsenal; their feet are firmly back in the ground. The alarm bells are ringing in Munich—they are not loud yet though. Bayern can completely shut the bells off by putting in a great performance against a side which won twice against them in two meetings in 2012. Yes, Leverkusen beat Bayern both times last year.
The first meeting in 2012 was in the 2011-12 season. Manuel Neuer played one of his best ever games in a Bayern shirt, but Bayern conceded twice nonetheless to lose. In October, during the 2012-13 season, a rather funny match with all kinds of comical incidents ended with Jerome Boateng holding his head in his hands.
Stefan Kiessling scored with his shin to open the scoring. Bayern dominated proceedings and missed a host of chances. A much-deserved equalizer came in the second half through Mario Mandzukic.
However, with little time left on the clock, Leverkusen was presented with a chance which almost went to waste. A cross found its way to Sidney Sam. Sam hit a woeful header which was headed toward the corner flag. Unfortunately, the ball bounced off Boateng and strangely went past Neuer into the back of the net.
That was the only loss amongst the three this season in which Bayern actually played really well, but could not win. The Bavarians scored at least one goal in each match between August and March. Unfortunately that run came to an end, thanks to Arjen Robben and Co. on Wednesday. In one way, Bayern is extremely lucky.
Their rough patch came at a time when they did not have to pay the price for it. Every team has a rough patch. Bayern has been excellent up to this point. The last three performances are the ones which have not lived up to the hype.
The 0-1 victory over Hoffenheim was slightly labored. Last week, Dusseldorf caught out the defence twice, but the attack saved the day. And of course, the Arsenal defeat must have finally caused Jupp Heynckes to bash his team.
Leverkusen is coming off a loss going into this one. Against Mainz, Adam Szalai's penalty saw Leverkusen drop three points. The week before, they were losing to Stuttgart, but managed to rescue the match with two goals, including a late strike from none other than Germany's current best striker Stefan Kiessling.
Good wins have been followed by poor draws for Bayer 04. Let us not forget that they failed to beat the worst side in the league—Greuther Furth. They drew only 0-0. Nonetheless, the style which Leverkusen uses is the one which has the most potential to hurt Bayern. They are a counter-attacking side and can do plenty of damage with little possession.
With the exception of Holger Badstuber, Bayern does not have too many injury worries. Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic have been left out. Boateng might start playing in the big ones now that his Champions League suspension is over. Robben could be sent to the bench, despite the fact that Ribery missed the midweek game and is not ready to return yet.
This might be the starting lineup:
Rafinha- Jerome Boateng- Dante- Diego Contento
Bastian Schweinsteiger- Javier Martinez
Xherdan Shaqiri- Toni Kroos- David Alaba
The Champions League draw took place on Friday. Bayern drew the old lady of Turin, La Vecchia Signora, Juventus. The Bavarians have fond memories of their last meeting with Juve. In many ways, that match against Juventus in 2009 helped Bayern step back into the limelight in Europe after poor performances between 2002 and 2009.
With their backs to the wall under Louis Van Gaal, the underdogs from Bavaria had to win to qualify for the Round of 16 in Italy. Alessandro Del Piero's Juventus opened the scoring. Hans-Jorg Butt, famously for the third time in his career, scored a penalty against the Italians.
"Golic" (as the partnership between Gomez and Ivica Olic was known then) both struck in the second half. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk scored a brilliant fourth to save Bayern's campaign. That game can also be remembered as the day Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up his game. His long shots troubled Juventus continuously.
The Juve of today is of course much different from the Juve of that season. Bayern has changed, but not too much. Andrea Pirlo is now the star of the Juve midfield alongside Arturo Vidal, the former Leverkusen player.
In the defence is a certain Andrea Barzagli, previously of Wolfsburg. The Italians play a 3-5-2 system. Pavel Nedved and Co. was not too happy to draw Bayern. Toni Kroos and Co. wasn't too happy either.
This draw will ask a lot of Bayern. An exit will not be shocking. However, a victory would not be shocking either. Jupp Heynckes will have to be brave nonetheless. He will need to play to his team's strengths (which means not taking off your CAM late in the match for a DM when you want a goal) to ensure Bayern has a chance.
There is no underdog in this tie. Bayern does not have a good record against Italian sides. However, surely defeats of Napoli in 2011 and Juventus themselves in 2010 will inspire them.
Now, the focus has to be on Leverkusen. Bayern will not want to invite Jurgen Klopp and Co. back into the title race.
Prediction: Leverkusen 2-1 Bayern