Preview: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich will be aiming to remain top of the Bundesliga table ahead of the international break after visiting Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.
The hosts, meanwhile, could move up to seventh with a victory depending on results elsewhere across the weekend.
After beating Ferencvaros 2-0 in Hungary on Thursday to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, Leverkusen are one of only two German teams remaining in European competition this season, alongside their forthcoming opponents.
Despite enduring a disastrous start to the campaign under Gerardo Seoane before the Swiss coach was replaced by Xabi Alonso in October, Die Werkself are not completely out of the running in terms of securing European qualification via a league position, with Eintracht Frankfurt six points clear of them in sixth position.
However, there is little doubt that Alonso’s priority between now and the end of the campaign is likely to be on the Europa League, with automatic Champions League qualification representing a tremendous prize for the winners on top of winning an illustrious trophy in its own right. Union Berlin’s conquerors in the previous round, Union SG, await Leverkusen in the quarter-finals.
In the meantime, the former Bayern midfielder will be relishing his first meeting against his former club as a manager on Sunday, with the huge test representing a perfect opportunity for the Spaniard to showcase his credentials as one of the most promising young managers in European football.
Should his side be able to secure a shock victory, not only would it have potentially huge ramifications on the title race as Borussia Dortmund attempt to end Bayern’s decade-long stranglehold on the division, but it would also lay down a marker for Leverkusen to build on next season.
Of course, Bayern will be hoping to receive a favour from FC Koln in Dortmund on Saturday, with BVB requiring a victory against Steffen Baumgart’s side in order to move above the Bavarians in the table before their rivals’ trip to Leverkusen.
Ultimately, though, Julian Nagelsmann’s side’s destiny remains firmly in their own hands as they continue to fight on three fronts. Having won eight of their last nine matches in all competitions, including an entertaining 5-3 victory against local rivals Augsburg last weekend, the 35-year-old will be determined to see his side avoid a slip-up against dangerous opponents on Sunday.
Should they head into the international break off the back of yet another win, it would stand Bayern in great stead for a crucial period in their season. Immediately upon returning, they will face Dortmund in a potentially pivotal Der Klassiker meeting, before they host Freiburg and visit Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal and the Champions League respectively.
Indeed, Friday’s draw was far from kind to Bayern, with their former manager Pep Guardiola’s side arguably being the most difficult opponent they could have faced. Holders Real Madrid or recent winners Chelsea await the winner of the fascinating tie in the semi-finals, in what is clearly the more difficult half of the draw.
For Nagelsmann, though, it is all about ensuring that his players and staff focus on one match at a time, but everyone connected to the club would not be human if they were not dreaming about completing a perfect treble for the second time in four seasons.
Bayer Leverkusen Bundesliga form:
Bayer Leverkusen form (all competitions):
Bayern Munich Bundesliga form:
Bayern Munich form (all competitions):
We say: Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Bayern Munich
This should be a hugely entertaining match between two teams containing plenty of attacking firepower. Bayern have only kept two clean sheets in nine league games since returning from the World Cup, so Leverkusen will certainly fancy their chances of scoring.