Bayern finished the first round of fixtures before the new year at the top of the table, having won 14 games and comfortably sitting 9 points over Borussia Dortmund. It was a good end to 2021, with Robert Lewandowski beating another Gerd Muller record. This time, it was for goals in the Bundesliga in a calendar year (Robert amassed 43 goals, 1 more than Gerd Müller).
Everything seemed like it was going right. The players were ready to take their vacations for what seemed like a well-earned winter break.
But that’s where the drama began. The New year definitely did not bring good news to Bayern. A host of first-team players contracted COVID-19. Manuel Neuer, Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso, Leroy Sane, Alphonso Davies, Lucas Hernandez and a few more were required to be in isolation, as was assistant coach Dino Toppmoeller. And with Choupo-Moting and Bouna Sarr away at the AFCON, it was a struggle to name a strong matchday squad against Borussia Monchengladbach – a fixture that is historically known as Der Klassiker. Plus, BMG is the one side that had managed to be stumbling blocks quite regularly. And that was exactly how things transpired.
Bayern fielded a 11 that had first-team players, but it was a weird 11. If you looked at the bench, it was filled with players from the youth side. This was actually a great opportunity for Julian Naglesmann to show he can win tough games even with such a squad. One of the reasons he was brought in was to do exactly this – develop youngsters to become world-beaters. But against BMG, it wasn’t meant to be. There was some disappointment too with the Bayern fans as they were looking at the coach to make some substitutions much before when he chose to do it. Nevertheless, even though Lewandowski started 2022 no different to how he left 2021, BMG were clinical and at the end of the day, it would be lazy to dismiss their good performance by calling it a regulation performance vs Bayern. Yes, they were rewarded for a good performance, while Bayern were made to rue their chances as Lewandowski also hit the crossbar twice.
It was a good week off the pitch though for Bayern. Assistant coach Dino Toppmoeller is back on to the field. As were all the players except Lucas Hernandez. Bayern travel to FC Köln this weekend. The Billy Goats are 6th in the Bundesliga table and have won their last 3 games. They possess an attacking threat, having scored 12 goals in their last 6 games. Anthony Modeste has been their main source for goals. He has 12 goals this season and ranks 4th in the Bundesliga, only 1 goal behind Erling Haaland. With this in mind, it won’t be a surprise to see Koln use him as their main target man. They would probably set up with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Goalkeeper Timo Horn is still a doubt, while Ellyes Skhiri is at the AFCON. But they would be hoping that Schindler and Seb Andersson are both fit and ready for the big game.
But who are the main threats that Bayern should be wary of apart from Modeste? The wingbacks are key to Köln’s build-up play. There is Benno Schmitz, the RB has been good in providing width and attacking impetus so far. He makes a lot of key passes in their build-up play and is one of their top provider of goals this season, along with LB Jonas Hector. Additionally, they would also look to their #11 – Florian Kainz, for some creativity! The Austrian has 2 goals and 2 assists – not much to suggest he’s going to set the stage alight? Yes. But he offers a lot more than what the numbers suggest. He’s adept at carrying the ball, quick-footed and can find a key pass, be it a cross, long ball, or threading it like a needle.
Now, what can we expect from Bayern? Though loads of key players are back, it is still a race against time to see how many of the returning contingent are match ready. As of now, only Manuel Neuer and Corentin Tolisso seem to be ready. It would be a HUGE boost if either Sane or Davies are available. Bayern would have a lot more pace to bank on this time! And that would be essential to keep Schmitz and even Kainz in check. Naglesmann would probably go with a similar lineup to last time, with a few key changes here and there. Bayern played a 4-2-3-1 vs BMG. But should be able to field a back 3 this game with the hopeful return of Dayot Upamecano. This would mean one of Sabitzer or Roca drops out. My bet is on Sabitzer, as Marc Roca has put in positive displays in the last few games. With Tolisso also fit, he should be able to partner Roca in the midfield while Muller, Gnabry and Lewandowski play up front and provide the attacking threat that would keep Köln busy! But the biggest plus for Bayern would be that they may not have to field a bench of their youth players alone!
FC Köln (4-2-3-1)
M Schwabe, B Schmitz, L Killian, T Hubers, J Hector, D Ljubicic, S Ozcan, F Kainz, A Duda, M Uth, A Modeste.
FC Bayern (3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1)
M Neuer, B Pavard, D Upamecano*, N Sule, J Kimmich, M Roca, C Tolisso, A Davies*, S Gnabry, T Muller, R Lewandowski – (* Players who are doubtful but probably will win the race vs time to make it to the starting 11.)
Some interesting trivia leading up to this game:
- Bayern have not lost in their last 14 games v Köln.
- Serge Gnabry loves scoring vs FC Köln. He netted twice in the first round and also has scored 11 goals in 8 games. He is their nightmare as the Bundesliga Socials put it. –
- FC Köln travel well to Munich, as they boast a record of winning 9 times away at Bayern. Unfortunately for them, they welcome Bayern home this time around. But definitely something the Billy Goats can take heart from to put in a spirited shift!
Written by Alankrith Shankar | Feature Image taken by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
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