On Saturday, Bayern Munich take on Eintracht Braunschweig in the Bundesliga in a fixture that might otherwise be considered a dead rubber. In reality, though, the visiting Bavarians will likely take the match seriously.
Pep Guardiola has taken his foot off the pedal in recent weeks, his once-unbeatable side having lost, drawn and won two games each in their six competitive fixtures since clinching the Bundesliga title in record time in March.
Bayern lost consecutive league matches to Augsburg and BVB by a combined 4-0 margin but rebounded well in the DFB-Pokal on Wednesday, beating Kaiserslautern 5-1. Still, the under-fire Guardiola will be aiming to take Saturday's match seriously in what will be Bayern's last match before meeting Real Madrid in the Champions League next Wednesday.
The trainer himself intimated to reporters in Friday's pre-match press conference, via Spox.com, that rotation is not an option alone due to squad injuries and suspensions.
Here's a look at the team Guardiola will most likely select to take on Braunschweig.
Goalkeeper: Lukas Raeder
After Manuel Neuer was withdrawn at half-time of the Dortmund game, he was initially expected to be fit to play against Kaiserslautern. Initial estimates seem to have been faulty, because the Germany international didn't play in midweek and was left out of the squad to face Braunschweig. With Neuer and backup Tom Starke out injured, Lukas Raeder will be given his first Bundesliga start on Saturday.
Right-Back: Philipp Lahm
Philipp Lahm may have started in the Bayern defense regardless of Rafinha's situation, but following the Brazilian's three-match suspension for a red card received last week, the 30-year-old captain should be a lock to play right-back. Lahm is the only established right-sided defender in the Bayern squad right now and could use a warm-up in his natural position before he takes on Cristiano Ronaldo next week.
Center-Back: Jerome Boateng
Although he rested last weekend, Jerome Boateng was returned to the Bayern line-up against Kaiserslautern and can expect to start for a second consecutive game. The Bavarian defense has always looked stronger with the 25-year-old present, and it's safe to say that Boateng has Guardiola's confidence at this point.
It's hard to see past Dante when considering Bayern center-backs. Guardiola ought to have learned from his mistake of using Javi Martinez in defense by now, as the Spaniard struggled against Dortmund, Manchester United, Arsenal and even Augsburg when deployed in a deeper role than his natural spot in defensive midfield. Especially with an eye on the Real match, Guardiola will presumably select a lineup capable of playing a strong defensive game.
Left-Back: Diego Contento
David Alaba is normally a lock for a starting berth on the left flank, but the 21-year-old was ruled out of the Braunschweig match during Guardiola's pre-match press conference. The Austria international is a near-certain starter against Real on Wednesday, but in the meantime will be replaced by his deputy, Diego Contento.
Defensive Midfielder: Javi Martinez
All empirical evidence points to the necessity of playing Javi Martinez in midfield. The 25-year-old's introduction in that position last season coincided with Bayern winning the treble, with many thanks to the indomitable midfield combination of Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger. When he was used there against Dortmund in the fall, Bayern won 3-0, but when he was used in defense against BVB, the result was reversed to a 3-0 loss for the Bavarians. Against Manchester United and Arsenal, he struggled to deal with the pace of his opponents and was too quick to go to ground. At this point, Guardiola should be well aware of how to use his €40 million man.
Central Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger
As vice-captain and motivational leader, Bastian Schweinsteiger is the kind of player any team would want in a high-stakes match. He struggled against Dortmund but will surely rebound this weekend as he looks to build form ahead of Wednesday's high-stakes clash.
Central Midfielder: Mario Gotze
Mario Gotze was perhaps Bayern's most dangerous player against Dortmund. He followed up a rather unlucky performance with a superb showing off the bench against Kaiserslautern, assisting and scoring in a half-hour. He always has been one to show his best form in big games, and with Real on the horizon, he's one to watch over the weekend.
Right-Winger: Arjen Robben
A substitute for most of the 2012-13 season, Arjen Robben is in the midst of his most prolific season since joining Bayern, having directly contributed to 36 goals in all competitions for the club. He can expect to start against both Real and Braunschweig.
Left-Winger: Thomas Muller
Thomas Muller is by no means the permanent starter he once was at Bayern, but he leads the club in goals contributed to this season with 37. He averages a goal or assist every 83 minutes. Flashy or not, he deserves to and may well start the rest of Bayern's games this season.
Striker: Mario Mandzukic
The importance of Mario Mandzukic should be well understood by Guardiola by now. The Croatian striker was directly involved in the equalizers in both legs against United, a tie in which Bayern otherwise struggled to put anything together in attack. Real center-backs Pepe and Sergio Ramos are notoriously fragile under pressure from physical strikers, and Mandzukic can offer physicality in excess, so expect him to have a run-out in the warm-up ahead of the Real match.
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