Bayern Munich host Bayer Leverkusen in a heavyweight Bundesliga clash at the Allianz Arena on Saturday between two sides who have had greatly contrasting starts to the season.
Bayern have started their title defence in perfect fashion, winning each of their first two league matches and marching to the summit of the Bundesliga table early in the campaign.
Leverkusen, meanwhile, have endured a far more difficult opening to their season, losing each of their league games so far and left with much to do to climb up from 19th in the table at this early stage in the season.
Though the two sides have begun the Bundesliga campaign in opposite form, the international break provides something of a fresh start heading into Saturday’s match, with both sides bursting with quality and vying for a winning return from the break.
Bayern’s campaign got off to a flier with a 5-0 thumping of Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFL-Supercup as Niko Kovac began with a win against his former side.
The Croatian’s team have made no mistake in following up that triumph with a strong start in the Bundesliga, beginning with an assured 3-1 win at home to Hoffenheim, and continuing their winning start on the road with a 3-0 success away at Stuttgart.
Bayer Leverkusen have struggled by comparison, opening their Bundesliga campaign with a 2-0 defeat away to Borussia Monchengladbach before succumbing to a tough 3-1 deficit at home to Wolfsburg, despite having taken the lead in the match.
It has been a testing start to the campaign for Heiko Herrlich’s side, and a trip to the Allianz Arena on Saturday offers little hope of any respite. Leverkusen must toughen up against a free-scoring Bayern side if they are to avoid another punishing defeat.
If Leverkusen are to kickstart their season at the Allianz Arena and pick up their first points of the campaign on Saturday, they may need to banish any psychological barriers established during their 3-1 defeat at home to Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern side when the sides last met.
Bayern arrived at the BayArena in January well on course for securing another Bundesliga title and showed no signs of nerves, but rather the strength of champions as they comfortably dispatched of their opponents.
A first half strike from Javi Martinez was followed up with a Franck Ribery effort just before the hour mark. Kevin Volland pulled one back for the hosts with 20 minutes remaining for a fightback, before James Rodriguez struck a fine effort to seal an accomplished win for Bayern.
Leverkusen will be seeking revenge as they travel to Bavaria on Saturday but must find a way to stop Bayern’s attacking juggernaut if they are to avoid a similar outcome at the Allianz Arena.
With Bayern’s free-scoring form likely to provide another stern test for Leverkusen’s struggling defence, the away side must seek to nullify Bayern’s attacking inroads during Saturday’s match.
Robert Lewandowski has begun the season in typically prolific form, after finishing as the Bundesliga’s leading scorer last term, with two goals in Bayern’s first two games this season, further asserting the Pole’s status as German football’s premier striker.
A hat-trick during Bayern’s 5-0 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFL-Supercup was further emphatic evidence of what Lewandowski is capable of when in such form, and Leverkusen must attempt to shackle Bayern’s number nine if they are to stand a chance.
Jonathan Tah is very much the rock of the Leverkusen defence, with a strong and physically imposing frame capable of outmuscling the most powerful of strikers.
Lewandowski’s game is typically based on his strength on the ball and an ability to turn under pressure and produce the killer touch, and Tah must be the one assigned to bully the Pole out of possession and limit the striker’s opportunities to find shots at goal.
Bayern boast a squad brimming with quality options but will have to make do without winger Kingsley Coman for Saturday’s match, with the Frenchman out with a ligament tear which is set to side line the 22-year-old until December.
Leverkusen, meanwhile, will be without promising defender Panagiotis Restos for the trip to the Allianz Arena, as the centre back continues to recover from a tendon crack.
Defensive midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger and attacker Joel Pohjanpalo also remain absent for Leverkusen’s travelling party to Bavaria this weekend, as they continue to recover from a ligament crack and an ankle injury respectively.
Though Leverkusen have quality players all over the pitch and should have enough to compete with Bayern, the Bavarians’ storming start to the season shows no signs of slowing down and their plethora of attacking talent is likely to prove too strong for a struggling Leverkusen side to deal with on Saturday.
The away team should be refreshed and raring to kickstart their season after the international break, but a trip to the Allianz Arena is not the ideal opportunity to get the ball rolling, against a Bayern side that looks intent on defending their Bundesliga crown emphatically.
Score prediction: Bayern Munich 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen