Bundesliga: Bayern poised to make history despite Atletico distraction
Berlin: Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich can become the first club to win a fourth consecutive Bundesliga title by beating Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday, amidst the distraction of their Champions League semi-final.
Bayern hold a seven-point lead and with three games left, a win over Gladbach at Munich's Allianz Arena will confirm a fourth straight German league title, a feat no other team has achieved before.
But Bayern are still smarting from Wednesday's 1-0 Champions League defeat at Atletico Madrid. Guardiola has been criticised by the German media ("Has Pep mullered Bayern's final chances?', asked Bild"), plus ex-Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld ("the tactic didn't work"), for his selection. Thomas Mueller, Bayern's top-scorer in Europe, and Franck Ribery both started on the bench leaving Bayern with it all to do in Tuesday's return leg in Munich.
Guardiola scoffed when asked if he would rest some of his stars against Gladbach. "We still need another win, we only have a few days to prepare and then we face Atletico three days later," he said. "We have to win against Gladbach first." In the wake of the Atletico defeat, only their fifth of the season, Bayern are feeling the pressure in their bid for a repeat of the 2013 treble.
"We would make a mistake if we quarrel now, I want to go to Milan," said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as the Champions League final will be held in the Italian city on May 28. Guardiola is likely to start with Germany's World Cup winner Mario Goetze up front against Gladbach. Defender Jerome Boateng could well play his first minutes since suffering a groin injury in January.
Having beaten Munich 3-1 at Borussia Park in December, Gladbach are chasing a rare home-and-away double but will be without US international Fabian Johnson, who has a leg injury. Should Gladbach shock Bayern, Borussia Dortmund will look to delay the Munich title party with victory over last season's runners up VfL Wolfsburg at the Signal Iduna Park. Dortmund are set to lose their third star player to Bayern in three years after captain and defender Mats Hummels announced he wants to join the Bavarian giants next season.
Dortmund have said they will accept only "an exceptional offer" for the World Cup-winner, who has a market value of 32 million euros ($36.32m). Should he leave with a year left on his contract, Hummels will follow Goetze, who left for Bayern in 2013 for 37m euros, and striker Robert Lewandowski, who signed on a free transfer in 2014. Dortmund have won their last three games by a 3-0 scoreline and have already qualified for the Champions League. Despite reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Wolfsburg have lost their Bundesliga bite in 2016 and are now 10th, six points away from the European places.
Their 2-0 defeat to Augsburg last Saturday meant they have dropped 16 points in their previous six games. Bayer Leverkusen could take a big step towards a direct Champions League berth when they host fellow European aspirants Hertha Berlin on Saturday. Leverkusen have won their last six, conceding just two goals in the process, and could secure their place in the Champions League's group stage with a win. Fourth-placed Hertha have not won since March.
There will be a crunch clash on Monday in the relegation battle when Werder Bremen host VfB Stuttgart. Stuttgart, who are 15th, are only two points clear of Werder and a win would see Bremen climb out of the relegation play-off spot with two games left. "We're fully aware of how crucial this game is. We're going to do all we can to claim the points, I can guarantee that," said Bremen's Senegal international Papy Djilobodji.
Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated) Friday Augsburg v Cologne (1830) Saturday Bayern Munich v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund v VfL Wolfsburg, Hanover 96 v Schalke, Hoffenheim v Ingolstadt, Mainz v Hamburg, Darmstadt v E. Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen v Hertha Berlin (1630) Monday Werder Bremen v VfB Stuttgart (1815)