Bayern Munich will again open up the Bundesliga season on Friday night, and they begin the pursuit of an unprecedented fifth successive title against one of their most favourite opponents in recent years, Werder Bremen.
The game will be Carlo Ancelotti’s first Bundesliga game in charge of Bayern, and despite the handover from Pep Guardiola, it still takes some deal of imagination to see them failing to win the salad bowl yet again.
Contrast that with Bremen. Their summer business led some fans to think this year will be something different from the relegation struggles of last time out, however this week’s events – the loss to Sportfreunde Lotte in the DFB-Pokal and Max Kruse’s subsequent injury – have put the jitters in them once again.
An ominous task for Bremen
The team they least want to be playing now is Bayern, and with good reason. They haven’t won against them since September 2008, a 5-2 win which was also their only ever victory at the Allianz-Arena. In fact, they have only ever won seven of the 56 games hosted by the current champions.
The last five league games between the two have ended 4-1, 6-1, 5-2, 6-0 and 5-0 in favour of Bayern, although the meeting their in the DFB-Pokal last season was at least only 2-0 to Bayern, and the fixture at the Weserstadion in the Hinrunde was also only a narrow 1-0 victory for them.
It is the fourth season in a row that Bayern have hosted the traditional Friday night season opener, as is their right as champions in each of those years. Last year they beat Hamburger SV 5-0, and also beat VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the two years before. Gladbach are the last team to get anything from Bayern on the opening weekend, with a 1-0 victory at the start of the 2011-12 season.
Bremen’s victory against 1. FC Kaiserslautern in that same weekend is one of just two victories at the start of the season in the past five years. The other was over Eintracht Braunschweig in 2013. Last season they started with a 3-0 defeat to FC Schalke 04, which very much set the tone for their season.
Form is in Bayern’s favour too. Their only pre-season defeat, in open play, was against Real Madrid, whilst they have already won the DFB-Supercup against Borussia Dortmund, and put five past Carl Zeiss Jena in the Pokal. Bremen are out of the cup, after losing to 3. Liga side Lotte 2-1 on Sunday, whilst their form in preseason was indifferent.
Everything is new for Ancelotti
For Ancelotti it is not only his first league game in charge, but his first competitive game at the Allianz.
"It's a new experience, a new country, a new league. That's why it's very exciting to start tomorrow," he said at his press conference on Thursday.
Although Bayern fans might find themselves making bets on how many they will put past Bremen’s shaky defence, the Italian unsurprisingly struck a more cautious tone.
"Bremen lost in the cup, but it's going to be a different match tomorrow. We want to make a good start, and we need a high level of concentration."
“Bayern are Bayern – top head coach, top players,” admitted Bremen coach Viktor Skripnik at his press conference. However he is confident of putting the defeat at the weekend behind them, and recalls their previous cup match against Bayern: “We want to play like we did in the DFB Cup in April tomorrow. That was a bold performance.”
Neither manager is in any doubt as to what their clubs’ wider goals are this season. "Our priority is to win the league," says Ancelotti. For Skripnik and Bremen, "our primary goal is to achieve 40 points as quickly as possible."
Injury concerns for both sides
The Bayern starting line-up is likely to be closer to the one that started against Dortmund in the Supercup than the one that played against Jena, with Xabi Alonso and Thiago set to return after missing the trip to the former East German champions.
Jérôme Boateng, Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa, Holger Badstuber and Kingsley Coman will all be missing though. Renato Sanches is fit, although Ancelotti has confirmed he will be on the bench.
Mats Hummels will start a Bundesliga game for Bayern for the first time, although it won’t be his first appearance for him in the league for them, with a solitary appearance from the bench against 1. FSV Mainz 05 in May 2007, before making his move to Dortmund. In Boateng’s absence his partner at the back is likely to be Javi Martínez.
For Bremen, the injury to Kruse will trigger a switch in tactics from last weekend. Then, they played a 4-2-3-1 with Kruse as the 10, but should move back to the more familiar 4-1-4-1, with Florian Grillitsch slotting into the holding role behind Clemens Fritz and Zlatko Junuzović, assuming the latter recovers from a black eye picked up against Lotte.
With Claudio Pizarro recovering from an injury picked up in pre-season, and Aron Jóhannsson still easing his way back into training after last season’s hip problems, new arrival Lennart Thy will probably start up front, although there’s some clamour for young prospect Johannes Eggestein.
Lamine Sané and Niklas Moisander will probably make their Bundesliga debuts in the centre of defence, although the rest of their summer signings, such as Florian Kainz and Justin Eilers, may have to wait their turn.
Robert Bauer, who arrived from FC Ingolstadt 04 this week, may also not be ready having just got back from the Olympics with the Germany squad. Although he insists he is ready to play, Skripnik wouldn’t commit on whether he’ll start.
"We still have two days to go, so we'll see,” he said on Wednesday.
Bayern Munich: (4-3-3) Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Javi Martínez, Mats Hummels, David Alaba; Xavi Alonso, Thiago, Arturo Vidal; Thomas Müller, Franck Ribéry, Robert Lewandowski.
Werder Bremen: (4-1-4-1) Felix Wiedwald; Theodor Gebre Selassie, Lamine Sané, Niklas Moisander, Robert Bauer; Florian Grillitsch; Sambou Yatabaré, Zlatko Junuzović, Clemens Fritz, Fin Bartels; Lennart Thy.
Quotes via Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Bundesliga.