Bayern Munich are hoping to continue their 100 percent record in the Bundesliga throughout 2014 on Saturday with a tricky away tie to FC Nurnberg.
The hosts have had a terrible season so far, yet their fortune has seemed to have changed since the turn of the year with two wins in their past two games allowing the club to stretch their current unbeaten run to an impressive five matches. Last weekend saw the club overcome Hertha Berlin 3-1 and finally pull themselves out of the relegation spot and in to 15th position.
Yet Pep Guardiola will expect his Bundesliga champions to overcome such momentum and pick up all three points against one of the oldest clubs in the country.
Bayern are likely too keep things relatively straightforward when it comes to what back line will face Der Club on Saturday. Rafinha should keep his spot at right back along with David Alaba on the left, whilst Dante and Jerome Boateng continue with their accomplished partnership in the centre of defence.
Despite only conceding one goal in 2014 so far, the defence has looked rather shaky of late with right-back Rafinha offering little solidity in comparison to the man who used to hold the position before him.
Yet Guardiola doesn't actually have too many options at the back aside from the likes of Diego Contento or Daniel Van Buyten, and since he seems unlikely to recall team captain Philipp Lahm from his new midfield duties, we shouldn't expect to see any surprises on Saturday.
Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to full first-team football this week, according to a report from the club this week, and trained with Guardiola's first XI for the first time since the club's trip to Qatar over one month ago. Yet it would be surprising to see the coach rush him back in to the squad so soon.
Similarly, Javi Martinez should be fully fit and make his way back in the squad as well after suffering from a knock. However, we don't quite understand the full extent of Guardiola's plans with the Spanish midfielder, as we've seen him play in the centre of the park as well as part of a back three in friendly matches this season. Either way, it would come as a surprise if we were to see him start this weekend.
What seems most likely is the boring case of the Bayern coach sticking with what seems to be working at the moment, with Lahm as his trusted defensive midfielder alongside the incredibly in-form Thiago Alcantara and the free-scoring Mario Gotze.
This means no room for Toni Kroos, the midfielder who mysteriously missed last week's game after throwing his gloves in frustration after being substituted the weekend before. But the two attacking midfielders do tend to work in a more direct fashion to Kroos and should ultimately break Nurnberg's defence with ease.
This then leaves us with none other than the attacking three to distinguish ahead of Saturday's game.
Mario Mandzukic returned to the first team in last week's victory over Eintracht Frankfurt—following his own absence from the side—with positive results. Whether or not Guardiola is willing to admit it is one thing, but it seems rather evident that Bayern simply play much better with a tradition striker in the side as opposed to Gotze playing as something of a false nine.
Mandzukic is a proven goalscorer for the club and clearly brings the best out in the players around him too. Gotze certainly looks more comfortable with a forward in front of him, which should weigh on Guardiola's mind when he's picking the team to face Nurnberg.
As such, we're likely to see Mandzukic keep his spot in the side, with the emphatic Franck Ribery on his left and likely return for Arjen Robben on the right. The Frenchman returned to the side last week and performed some exquisite football whilst Robben's own appearance, amounting to 25 minutes and a goal, should prove enough to warrant a starting place this weekend.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!