Bayern wary of improving Nuernberg

Posted by Susie Schaaf

Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to team training on Wednesday, following teammates Javi Martinez and Daniel van Buyten, who had both returned last weekend giving Bayern Munich trainer Pep Guardiola a full roster (except Holger Badstuber) for the first time this season ahead of Saturday's Franco-Bavarian Derby.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Nuernberg.

In the category of "injuries I've never heard of before", Franck Ribery underwent surgery Thursday evening to repair a burst blood vessel in his buttock. He'll remain in the hospital until Sunday, and be assessed (har har!) for on Monday.

- Report: Ribery out of Nurnberg clash

Yet despite Ribery's buttock, the return of two of the best defensive midfielders in the game begs the question: Just what is Guardiola going to do with a full squad? Known for preferring a compact, versatile team in his Barcelona days, he inherited a crowded midfield from Jupp Heynckes before adding a starlet of his own -- Thiago Alcantara.

So far, however, when Guardiola has had the luxury of too many players, he's used it to great effect. In the Hinrunde Borussia Dortmund match, Mario Goetze was brought on as a second-half substitution, breaking a 0-0 deadlock against his former team. And more recently, Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro came in to bolster a flagging attack to help Bayern grind out a win over VfB Stuttgart.

I suppose the pivot -- excuse the joke -- in the conversation is where will Guardiola place Philipp Lahm? While Rafinha has been having an admirable season at right-back in Lahm's stead, Bayern Munich's captain is still a better option there. And seeing that the coach has two world-class players available at the defensive-midfield position, it would be a shame to see one of the two on the bench over any stretch of time.

Guardiola's 4-1-4-1 has, of late, switched in-and-out to a 4-2-3-1 which gives the more defensive-minded players some hope of regular playing time. Toni Kroos and vice-captain Schweinsteiger go forward as well as they go back, and one of the two -- at times both -- should feature in central midfield.

But while Martinez has featured all over the pitch when he's been healthy this season, his best natural position remains in the pivot. Guardiola will have to train him to be the kind of centre-back he likes (see: Jerome Boateng's pre-season) before the Spaniard gets any real time there.

"Ah! To have that kind of luxury!" says everyone who supports a team other than Bayern Munich. But, meanwhile, there's a derby on. Nuernberg, who suffered the ignominious record of failing to win any of their 17 first-half fixtures, have come storming out of the gates in the Rueckrunde with wins against Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin. Those two victories got the Franconian outfit just out of the relegation zone and they currently sit in the 15th spot in the Bundesliga table.

And while a fixture against a 15th-placed squad would normally pose no problem for Bayern, away matches at Grundig Stadion have not exactly gone the way die Roten have expected in recent past. Bayern Munich has only beaten Nuernberg once in their last six meetings there, drawing four and losing once.

Nuernberg midfielder Markus Feulner told "I hope we play an unbelievably good game and pose Bayern real problems." Those problems come likely in the form of Josip Drmic. The Swiss international has scored four goals in two matches since the restart, and international teammate Xherdan Shaqiri via the Bayern website recently likened Drmic to a "fox in the box".

Der Club boss Gertjan Verbeek said pre-match: "A derby is always something special, for the fans in particular. We respect every opponent we play, but we’ll play tough and do all we can to win."

Defenders Per Nilsson and Emanuel Pogatetz are out for Verbeek's side as well as midfielders Makoto Hasebe, Niklas Stark and Hanno Balitsch. Meanwhile, Mike Frantz, Timothy Chandler and Markus Feulner are all facing suspension on four yellow cards, but the coach sees no harm in starting the trio, saying: "The fans have the right to see the best team face Bayern."

I said in an interview earlier this season that I thought the injuries that had plagued Bayern to kick off this campaign might have actually been a boon to Guardiola, in that he didn't have the selection headaches that he will face when he has a fully healthy squad. Ribery's untimely injury means someone else gets to play on Saturday. But, it will be interesting to see if the players -- and the coach -- can manage their egos and come to a collective and get this thing done.

Auf gehts!


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