It should be with great happiness that I begin this preview: the Bundesliga is back on Friday night with a clash between the top two teams in the league and football really is back to its full schedule. Unfortunately Friday night will probably be one of the most sombre occasions in recent footballing memory after Junior Malanda’s recent death shocked Germany. The young central midfielder was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to join his team mates for their winter break and the first match since then will fittingly be a home tie. His was a tragic loss, a talented young man with his whole life ahead.
Wolfsburg will be reeling from their loss. At the recent Ballon d’Or ceremony their women’s team stole the show, with star player Nadine Kessler taking the main prize and coach Ralf Kellermann winning manager of the year. Their joyous day was overshadowed by Malanda’s death and it is anyone’s guess as to how his team mates will react to losing a clearly beloved team mate. That Wolfsburg are perfectly placed to qualify for the Champions League and the closest challengers to Bayern Munich makes this a crucial match; it was already going to be tough for Wolfsburg to get anything against Bayern, but the extra circumstances surrounding the match will not make things any easier.
Veteran striker Ivica Olic still leads their scoring chart with 5, but Kevin de Bruyne has been the undoubted star of the show so far this season. The ex-Chelsea midfielder has 3 goals and 10 assists and his performance will be crucial to Wolfsburg’s chances. Ivan Perisic has hit form recently too and even perennial failure Nicklas Bendtner has found the back of the net for the Wolves. They are not short of goals- centre back Naldo has picked up 5, making him joint top scorer- and scored away in the Allianz Arena in the first game of the season. An effective attacking unit could be undone by the defence though. Despite impressive performances all season they only have 5 clean sheets. Against this supremely talented Bayern side their ability to keep the Bavarians out will be crucial.
Bayern Munich have had an interesting January, seeing a number of youthful faces leave Bavaria. Young midfield talent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg signed a new contract before immediately being loaned out to FC Augsburg until the end of next season; Xherdan Shaqiri departed to the San Siro to join Roberto Mancini at Inter Milan. The squad that remains is hardly short on talent, either old or young, but with injury concerns plaguing the end to the first half of the season Pep Guardiola will be monitoring the health situation of his squad very closely before the Ruckrunde begins on Friday night. Captain Philipp Lahm and winger Franck Ribery are the fresh concerns for the champions-elect, with Thiago likely out for the season and Javi Martinez still someway from full fitness. Still, with Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger back in the first team on a regular basis it could be worse.
Bayern have won their last 5 in a row (Wolfsburg have won 4 and drawn 1- both are in-form sides) and remain unbeaten in the league, but they are weaker away from home. They have drawn 3 of their 8 clashes away from home and struggle to find the net with the regularity that they achieve at home. They hardly ever concede though; with Manuel Neuer in goal and Mehdi Benatia settling in to German football nicely in front of the big German stopper they can seem impenetrable at times. 6 clean sheets away from home is an impressive statistic but Wolfsburg will pose a big threat to that record. Top scorer Robben has netted 10 times this season and Thomas Müller, Lewandowski and Mario Götze all have 7, so they will pose a massive threat of their own.
Verdict: A tight, emotional game with some good chances for both sides. Last time, Wolfsburg just fell to a 2-1 defeat in Bavaria but Bayern have been majestic since then; the Wolves will be drained by the loss of Malanda and could well struggle under the emotion of the occasion. Prediction: VfL Wolfsburg 1-3 Bayern Munich
Sharpshooter: Olic for Wolfsburg; Robben for Bayern
Easy Money: Double chance Bayern or draw
Long Shot: BTTS and Bayern to win (BTTS W-D-W)
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