Finally! The Bundesliga is back!
There's a part of me that is very happy to have the boys from Bayern rest, recoup and get some sun before resuming training -- and a three-competition match schedule -- but the other half is bored to death; glomming on other leagues during the Winterpause, sighing wistfully, whilst waiting for the end of January.
And so it kicks off on Friday evening with what might be Bayern Munich's most difficult test in the Rueckrunde; away to Borussia Monchengladbach. Having already faced Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund on their grounds -- and with 'Gladbach currently placed third in the table -- it'll be a tricky match for Bayern to negotiate.
- Hotakie: Gladbach back on track
- Buczko: Dortmund's renewed hope
The past few seasons have seen die Fohlen and die Roten get together at crucial Bundesliga matchdays. Jupp Heynckes' re-debut for Bayern in the 2011-12 season opener saw Igor de Camargo score late to defeat Munich at the Allianz Arena. Gladbach would beat FCB again to start the second-half of the season, 3-1, with goals from Marco Reus, Patrick Hermann and Juan Arango; only Bastian Schweinsteiger was able to pull one back.
The 2012-13 season saw Bayern get Dante from Lucien Favre's Foals for an estimated 5 million euro, but 'Gladbach would not bow down on Matchday 17. Thorben Marx struck a first-half penalty, before Xherdan Shaqiri equalised in the second 45. And although Bayern had sealed the season over a month prior, the last Matchday saw Martin Stranzl and Mike Hanke score within the first five minutes before Javi Martinez pulled one back. Havard Nordveit put Borussia up 3-1 soon after, before the Bayern screws started to turn -- with a brace by Franck Ribery and a second-half Arjen Robben strike.
Pep Guardiola's debut as Bayern's coach came on Matchday 1 this season in a wildly entertaining match against this same squad. Dante, still thinking he was playing for his old squad, would score the lone goal for 'Gladbach, with Robben and Mario Mandzukic netting first-half goals. The "wildly entertaining" part would come in the second-half when Alvaro Dominguez was judged to handle the ball in the box twice within one minute. While keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved Thomas Muller from the first time; the rebound fell to Dominguez' on the rebound, and David Alaba would get past the excellent Foals (for now) Torwart.
Great news for Bayern supporters as Dominguez is looking to make his first start on Friday after a lengthy shoulder injury, while defender Tony Jantschke is still out with facial injuries suffered in the Winterpause. Defender Roel Brouwers will also not feature due to a groin strain.
But, while there are weaknesses to be exposed in Favre's back four right now, their attack is something else. With Arango, Herrmann, Raffael and Max Kruse on top, they've managed 35 goals in the Hinrunde; a total only bettered by Hoffenheim (36), Dortmund (38) and Bayern Munich (42). And although they've been scored against 19 times-- compared to Bayern's paltry eight-- that figure is still in the upper echelon of the first-half Bundesliga totals.
As Arjen Robben turns 30, he's returned to team training after a seven-week absence with a deep gash in his knee. You may expect to see the Dutchman come in as a substitution on Friday as he is not 100 percent. Captain Philipp Lahm also returned to the fold after being told to take it easy, and will prominently feature.
Schweinsteiger has suffered a minor set-back in his recovery with a knee injury and is definitely out for this one, as is Martinez and likely Ribery. So, Guardiola's selection problems are eased -- a bit -- for the time being. But you'd be hard-pressed to pick out a particular Bayern Startelf for this one as the Catalan coach always has something up his sleeve. (Just hopefully not the disastrous three-man back-line he ran out against Salzburg.)
Former Borussia and Bayern man Stefan Effenberg told Bundesliga.com: "I've said it many times: Gladbach's most important signing over the last few years was Lucien Favre. He's really put his stamp on the team. Thanks to Favre, Gladbach are really disciplined. That's important if you want to be successful."
I can't agree more. Although I follow Bayern, Favre has done wonders for Gladbach. It's a pleasure to watch his Foals play week-in-and-week-out, but -- naturally -- I'll suspend my admiration on Friday.
You can also catch Susie on the Rekordmeister podcast rekordmeister.podbean.com -- Bayern Munich's only English-speaking podcast.