November 18, 2017

Bayern Munich’s Upcoming Ides of April

“Beware the Ides of March,” a soothsayer says to Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Change “March” to “April” and that portent just might apply to Bayern Munich’s upcoming month.

April 1. Home against FC Augsburg.

April 4. Away to TSG Hoffenheim.

April 8. Home against Borussia Dortmund.

April 12. Home against Real Madrid.

April 15. Away to Bayer Leverkusen.

April 18. Away to Real Madrid.

April 22. Home against Mainz 05.

April 26. Home against Borussia Dortmund.

April 29. Away to Wolfsburg.

There is a little something in FCB’s April schedule for every sort of German Fussball fan– whether one lives and dies by Bayern, hates everything FC Hollywood stands for, or just appreciates a great match between strong sides.

But for Carlo Ancelotti and his band of merry players, it is definitely do-or-die time. They won’t be playing in any finals in May without a successful nine-match gauntlet run in March.

The Bundesliga is Tricky

Looking at Munich’s Bundesliga matches, one might gather that the first and last matches favor Bayern the most, considering Augsburg and Wolfsburg currently sit 14th and 15th in the table, respectively. Not so fast, my friends!  The April 1st match at home against Augsburg is now a little tricky with the yellow card suspensions of Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez.  Manuel Neuer will also be missing, having had minor foot surgery.

Though die Roten might be used to a sort of biannual beat down over VfL Wolfsburg, the Wolves did manage to keep it narrow in their 1:0 loss to Bayern in the DFB Pokal’s Round of 16 in February.  And one can only guess how healthy the away team will be at the end of an impossibly grueling month.

TSG Hoffenheim presents its own set of problems for the Reds as it is an away match against top five competition (and yes, Neuer definitely misses that one, too), while Bayer Leverkusen away is sandwiched in between the Champions League quarterfinal tie with Real Madrid.  Depending on where Bayern is mentally, after their first match against Los Blancos, they might conceivably drop points at BayArena — especially given the history of Ancelotti’s preference of winning in Europe.

Borussia Dortmund

As a Bayern Munich supporter, I know I am not the only one that wished for a draw against Borussia Dortmund in this round of Champions League competition. Can you imagine? A whole month of der K*******r (sorry, I refuse to call it that)? Two things would have played in Bayern’s favor had that happened:  First, BVB is also playing the same arduous nine-match April. Second, Bayern would have played three of the four showdowns at the Allianz Arena.

Alas, it is not to be. But, if you’re a Germany UEFA coefficient person?  It’s probably for the best.  Instead of what might have been, fans of both sides have to settle for April 8th’s Bundesliga match and a Pokal semifinal on the 26th.

Though Dortmund had dropped out of European places a couple of times in the Hinrunde, they have been steady in the league’s third spot for a number of weeks.  But where Bayern, with a 13-point lead atop the table, can give up some points here or there, BVB (on 46 points) find themselves tightly sandwiched between RB Leipzig (49) and Hoffenheim (45)– all gunning for a guaranteed UCL spot next season.

That precariousness of position might work out in favor for die Schwarzgelben in Bundesliga action (again, noting Bayern’s trainer’s penchant for Europe), and then who knows what happens in the cup.  When one looks at comparative form between the sides in the Rueckrunde, FCB’s record of six wins and two draws (Schalke and Hertha BSC) edges out BVB’s five wins, a draw (Mainz 05) and two losses (Darmstadt and Berlin).

One last thought regarding April 8th: Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Sebastian Rode will all miss out with injuries.  And saying that, I segue nicely into …

Injuries: Existing, Possible, and Probable

When is the last time you remember Bayern Munich’s crew returning from an international break without a player being injured? Well, that just happened. However, it’s not all great news as Douglas Costa is either fit, or not, or having surgery at any moment (depending on the day), while Neuer suffered a foot injury in training on Wednesday and had to have the tiniest bit of surgery. In slightly unbelievable news, Munich’s keeper-sweeper-holding midfielder is supposed to be back before the Dortmund match.

What FCB does better than most clubs is their player depth.  What they do worse than most clubs is their players’ propensities to get injured.

In Neuer’s case, Sven Ulreich finally get a chance to impress between the sticks as he is nosing about for regular football with a different club next season. (He should.) Costa being replaced by Franck Ribéry will get arguments from few– except for the fact that Bayern can no longer rely on the ageing French maestro’s health.

The position that will likely be the most nerve-wracking in April will be Bayern’s attacking wings. For how dynamic Bayern’s four are, they are equally as frail.  Kingsley Coman has missed 19 matches this season, Ribery 12, Costa nine and Arjen Robben six.  (Color me shocked that Robben wins the “healthiest Bayern winger” award!)

The White Elephant in the Room

Arsenal might have been stiffer UCL competition than they turned out to be (blame it all on Laurent Koscielny), but finally Ancelotti and his squad get a true test of measure against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.

Zinedine Zidane’s men have been called this season’s “Kings of Set Pieces,” having scored a remarkable 14 in La Liga, so far–  eight from corners, and six after free kicks.  Accurate dead balls by Luca Modric and Toni Kroos, coupled with tall, physical men as targets make them a consistent threat.

However, Bayern have gotten better at depending set pieces under Ancelotti than under his predecessor, Pep Guardiola– he who lamented, at least once a season, why they could not get it together.  Any height advantage that Madrid might have in the league will also largely be negated by FCB’s centerbacks.

Perhaps the most noteworthy statistic in Bayern Munich’s favor is they lead the top five European leagues in allowed goals over 90 minutes:  Currently a paltry .52 compared to Madrid’s 1.04.  Of course, statistics mean little when two titans of European football get together.

Do-or-Die

If you know me at all, I have been cautioning patience (we supporters like to call it “strategic pessimism”) rather than wild excitement regarding Bayern Munich’s ever better form– and for good reason– they haven’t done anything yet.

Many will say that Ancelotti has put his team purposefully in position to be at their strongest now.  To that I say, “Phooey!  They haven’t played anyone yet, when it really counts.”  Well, that starts now: get through “The Ides of April” for the chance of ultimate glory in May.  I can’t think of a better way to be proven wrong than a treble.

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Susie Schaaf

Susie Schaaf first fell in love with football watching Gerd Mueller play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. She has written extensively about the DFB and Bayern Munich, formerly for ESPN FC and now with FC Bayern Central. She co-hosts @Rekord_Pod, as well as speaking on SiriusXM FC and BBC World Service. In her free time she travels, pours a drink or two, and watches more football. The girl that kissed Gerd's Golden Boot can be found on Twitter @fussballsusie.

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