The game at VfB Stuttgart will be a real test for Bayern Munich. The situation in the table has taken something of an unexpected turn as far as I’m concerned. Bayern are not looking anything like as dominant out in front as they were earlier in the season. They’ve shown that they can be beaten – and the games in Stuttgart are always hot-blooded affairs.
VfB will be giving it their all in their last home game before the winter break and there will be no repeat of this time last year, when they lost 5-3 at home in the league and then 6-3 in the DFB Cup inside a matter of days. Bayern caught them on the hop there. Stuttgart come across as a more solid unit this season and all-in-all they have had a surprisingly good campaign. I had reckoned with this being a transition year, but they have already accumulated a fair haul of points. It will be interesting to see how VfB perform in the second half of the season, given their tendency in recent years to go from one form extreme to another either side of the winter break.
In losing at home to Dortmund, Bayern missed the chance to pull eight points clear of their rivals. I hadn’t reckoned with anyone getting close to them again before the recess. I don’t think the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger is the crux of the matter, even though they have no-one else who can replace him one-to-one. For me, the central and right side of the defence are still the main problem areas.
As far as the Bundesliga goes, the competition at the top is good. Borussia Dortmund are well back in the groove after getting off to a slow start, while Borussia Mönchengladbach are the big surprise, hanging hard at the top. Schalke 04 have a very disciplined look to them as well and they’re only three points behind Bayern.
On the European front, FC Bayern have done a good job so far in the Champions League, but Borussia Dortmund’s performances were a disappointment. To finish bottom of a group containing Marseille and Olympiacos, not even qualifying for the Europa League, is not good enough for the champions of Germany. Bayer Leverkusen on the other hand were a positive surprise. On the basis of their season to date I hadn’t expected them to do so well. Still, the 2-1 win against Chelsea was a reminder of the thin line separating success and failure. But for that 92nd-minute winner, Bayer could well have been eliminated. Finally, not to forget the Europa League, Schalke and Hannover did was required of them with something to spare. They can be well satisfied with their progress.
Odds favour Bayern in southern classic
Swabians against Bavarians: The meetings of VfB Stuttgart and FC Bayern Munich have produced many a classic down the decades, most recently this time last year at Stuttgart’s Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion, the visitors eventually winning 5-3 after being 3-0, then 5-1 up. Just three days later, Bayern went one better at the same venue in the last 16 of the DFB Cup, running out 6-3 victors – although once again, it was only late on that the result was definitively in the bag.
When VfB play host to their great southern rivals this Sunday, it will be the 89th time they have met in the Bundesliga. In all, they have gone competitively head-to-head 106 times since 1960 and the overall balance is tipped rather heavily in Bayern’s favour. The men from Munich have won 64 of those encounters and drawn 20, losing just 22.
Stuttgart’s last victory on home soil was in November 2007 when, as reigning German champions, they ran out 3-1 winners on the back of a dazzling first-half display, a certain Mario Gomez netting twice. Since signing on at Bayern in the summer of 2009, Gomez has finished on the winning team against VfB every time he scored. The two games where he didn’t find the net ended 0-0 in October 2009 and 1-2 in March 2010 in Munich – Stuttgart’s last success to date against the record champions.
Gomez has not hit the net in the three most recent league outings but his 13-goal haul already this season speaks for itself. Bayern meanwhile emerged from a mini-slump to thump Bremen 4-1 last time out, moving back to the top of the table in the process. Stuttgart are in seventh, still sniffing around the European places – but with just one win their last six league outings, Bruno Labbadia’s will have to up their game fast if they hope to adjust that negative balance in the southern classic ever so slightly in their own favour.