Hoffenheim vs Bayern Munich Preview: Classic Encounter, Key Battle, Team News & More
After the international break, the Bundesliga returns this week with a mouthwatering clash between 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
The hosts have picked up four points from six games thus far, with a opening weekend 1-0 win against Werder Bremen followed by an respectable 2-2 draw away at Bayer Leverkusen.
For the visitors, as expected, they've attained maximum points from their opening two fixtures, beating the same teams Hoffenheim played, by coincidence. They beat Bayer 3-1 at the Allianz Arena, and then won 2-0 away at Werder Bremen thanks to a Robert Lewandowski double.
Here's everything you need to know ahead of this clash:
For Bayern, Hoffenheim represents something of a bogey team for the Bundesliga champions. Hoffenheim were the only team Bayern failed to beat in the German top flight last season, drawing 1-1 at home and losing 1-0 away.
For this fixture's classic encounter, we go to its most recent - that 1-0 loss away to Hoffenheim in April 2017 ended Bayern's 20-match unbeaten league run, and although it didn't derail the leaders as the season approached its climax, it showed the threat of Julian Nagelsmann's side when on home turf.
Positioned in third place at the time, Hoffenheim won the game due to a first-half half-volley from ex-Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric. Hoffenheim dominated the first-half, and although the second-half was marred with Bayern chances, goalkeeper Oliver Baumann pulled off a string of saves from Franck Ribery and Lewandowksi (who earlier hit the crossbar). It was Hoffenheim's first ever win against Bayern.
It was a result which surprised many, and reminds Bayern that they are not invincible, and will have to be wary of Hoffenheim's attacking threat this Saturday.
Robert Lewandowski vs Ermin Bicakcic, Havard Nordtveit & Benjamin Hübner
With Hoffenheim likely to line-up with a back three trio of Ermin Bicakcic, Havard Nordtveit and Benjamin Hubner, the way in which they deal with the threat of Robert Lewandowksi will be pivotal in shaping the outcome of this game.
The Polish international striker has already hit the ground running this season, scoring three goals in two games. So often the match winner for Bayern, his role in linking with Bayern's attacking threats, such as Arjen Robben, Thiago Alcantara and Franck Ribery, as well as the finishing prowess he undoubtedly possesses will be crucial in putting pressure on Hoffenheim's back three.
Liverpool ran riot in the first 20 minutes of their Champions League play-off second-leg, with the back three formation coming unstuck against quick, incisive attacking play. The hosts will want to nullify that threat Bayern posses, most notably with Lewandowksi, early on.
Julian Nagelsmann is very likely to make changes given the visit of Bayern, and ramifications from a testing two weeks of international duty on the Hoffenheim squad.
Forward Adam Szalai picked up an adductor injury playing for Hungary and is highly likely to miss out. On-loan midfielder Serge Gnabry, who signed for Bayern in the summer from Werder Bremen before moving to Hoffenheim for the season, could also be absent against his parent club due to an ankle injury.
Carlo Ancelotti's main concern is at left-back. David Alaba was substituted in the first-half of Austria's World Cup qualifier with Georgia due to an ankle complaint, and it'll be touch-and-go to see if he's fit for the game. With Juan Bernat a long-term absentee, it may well fall to Rafinha to shift over to the left-hand side of defence, with versatile Josh Kimmich moving to right-back.
It remains to be seen whether James Rodriguez will make his Bundesliga debut. The Columbian played 90 minutes for his nation against Brazil, and will be desperate to make an impact during a club career which has somewhat stalled given his stagnation at Real Madrid. Sebastian Rudy is likely to start in midfield against his former club.
Potential Hoffenheim Starting Lineup: Baumann; Bicakcic, Nordtveit, Hubner; Kaderabek, Demirbay, Rupp, Schulz; Uth, Kramaric; Wagner
Potential Bayern Starting Lineup: Neuer; Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Rafinha; Rudy, Tolisso; Robben, Thiago, Robert; Lewandowski
This is a much more difficult match to predict than it may seem on paper.
Bayern Munich are obviously the favourites. despite playing away from home. They've been utterly dominant during recent years in the Bundesliga, and have a habit of sweeping away challenges like Hoffenheim with relative ease.
And yet, they failed to beat Hoffenheim last season, and that will definitely play on the mind of Carlo Ancelotti's men as they enter the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Hoffenheim's expansive style of play will have to be matched with defensive discipline if they are to get anything from the game.
Despite Hoffenheim's threat, Bayern will make it three wins from three.
Prediction: 1899 Hoffenheim 1-3 Bayern Munich