The opening match of Bundesliga matchday four following the first international break could not have given us a more mouth-watering clash as the top two in the league go head-to-head putting their 100% starts to the season on the line.
Bayern Munich host Bayer Leverkusen at the Allianz Arena on Friday with Werkself coach Xabi Alonso returning to his former club for the first time and looking to repeat the victory he achieved last season at the Bay Arena. With the Champions League getting under way in the week, Bayern will want to maintain their good start to the season prior to hosting Manchester United in their group stage opener.
The Rekordmeister have made a perfect start to the new season with three wins from three and have seemingly recovered from their Supercup loss to RB Leipzig. The Harry Kane effect has had the desired effect with the England captain having already scored three goals. Leroy Sané has also started the season in fine form for both club and country and will be keen to keep his own scoring form going (five in five games).
The win last time out away at Borussia Mönchengladbach arrived thanks to a late winner from Mathys Tel, who looks fired up this season to prove he is more than capable of grabbing the goals when given the chance. Defensively, the partnership of Dayot Upamecano and Kim Min-Jae has looked good leaving Mathijs de Ligt having to settle for a place on the bench thus far. Sven Ulreich has stepped into the breach in goal in his usual understated fashion, while the form of Leon Goretzka has thus far kept new signing Konrad Laimer out of the starting XI.
Bayern have a very good record at home against Leverkusen having scored at least one goal in each of their games against the Werkself for the last 33 matches in their own stadium. Last season’s fixture at the Allianz Arena saw a comfortable win for Bayern, which spelt the end for Gerardo Seoane, but the reverse fixture at the Bay Arena under Xabi Alonso brought a 3-2 defeat and Thomas Tuchel will be more than aware of the tactical intelligence of the Leverkusen coach.
Courtesy of their better goal difference, Leverkusen arrive in Bavaria as the league leaders having scored eleven goals already in their first three games. The fixture computer didn’t hand them the easiest of starts, but both RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach were dispatched in the first two games before a 5-1 thrashing was handed out to Darmstadt on matchday three.
The summer signings have all settled in instantly with Granit Xhaka providing an excellent base in midfield, fullback Alejandro Grimaldo complimenting Jeremie Frimpong, and Jonas Hofmann compensating for the absence of Moussa Diaby. The most impactful arrival however has been that of striker Victor Boniface. The Nigerian has hit the ground running with four goals already and he will be looking to increase his tally on Friday.
The timing of the fixture, coming as it does just one or two days after players have returned from international duty, will possibly serve up some interesting selection problems for both sides and it could be argued that this is the ideal time to be playing Bayern at the Allianz Arena for Leverkusen. They showed last season that they have the beating of the Bundesliga champions and a repeat performance would well and truly underline their billing as a title contender this season.
The main question mark for Bayern is over Joshua Kimmich, who had to sit out Tuesday’s match with France due to a muscle problem. Jamal Musiala missed both Germany friendlies, but does look set to make the squad, but a place on the bench seems likely with Thomas Müller starting.
Konrad Laimer might get the chance to line-up at right back after impressing as a sub last time out. Should Kimmich not be passed fit, he would move into midfield with Noussair Mazraoui slotting back in at full back. Thomas Tuchel will in all likelihood keep faith with the central defensive pairing of Kim Min-Jae and Dayot Upamecano.
Possible line-up: Ulreich – Laimer, Upamecano, M.-J. Kim, Davies – Goretzka, Kimmich – Sané, Müller, Gnabry – Kane
The only change foreseen in the Leverkusen line-up that has started the season so well comes in midfield with Robert Andrich a likely starter in place of Exequiel Palacios. The Argentine will only have returned from international duty in Bolivia on Thursday making an appearance in the first XI a tough ask.
Amine Adli and Piero Hincapie are both available for selection having finished serving their bans held over from last season.
Possible line-up: Hradecky – Kossounou, Tah, Tapsoba – Frimpong, Andrich, G. Xhaka, Grimaldo – Hofmann, Wirtz – Boniface
What they’re saying:
Thomas Tuchel: “The German players showed a good performance against France. We’ve only seen them briefly so far, it’s business as usual. Our job is to prepare them for the game as best as possible. The boys had this morning off, this evening we are training tactically and we are preparing the boys for Leverkusen. All players have been on different teams for the past two weeks. Now the season is basically starting again.
“Leverkusen is a very strong team and has a very good coach. They are very homogeneous and play at a very good level. I’m really looking forward to the evening game. This is the worthy setting for this match. We are the two teams that started with three wins. We will be ready to put our best foot forward and try to win.
“His path [Xabi Alonso’s] will continue very successfully. You could already tell when he was a player that he could become a good coach. I learned a lot about football from him as a player, watching him. He was a defining figure everywhere. He had a natural aura and great anticipation. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Xabi Alonso: “We are heading to Munich in good spirits and hopefully we can make it a good game. If we play to how we know we can play, we have every chance.
“He’s [Victor Boniface] a great player, a special player. He’s a striker but he doesn’t just play for himself, he’s generous. We are really happy to have him here. We managed to further develop our game idea in the last few games. Our development is more important than the table after three match days. Tomorrow we have to show our qualities.
02/09/23 Borussia Mönchengladbach (a) 1-2 W (Bundesliga)
27/08/23 Augsburg (h) 3-1 W (Bundesliga)
18/08/23 Werder Bremen (a) 0-4 W (Bundesliga)
12/08/23 RB Leipzig (h) 0-3 L (Supercup)
07/08/23 Monaco (h) 4-2 W (Friendly)
02/09/23 Darmstadt (h) 4-1 W (Bundesliga)
26/08/23 Borussia Mönchengladbach (a) 0-3 W (Bundesliga)
19/08/23 RB Leipzig (h) 3-2 W (Bundesliga)
12/08/23 FC Teutonia Ottensen (a) 0-8 W (DFB Pokal)
05/08/23 West Ham (h) 4-0 W (Friendly)
Last season’s corresponding fixture at the Allianz Arena came on matchday eight when a limp performance from Leverkusen saw them go down to a 4-0 defeat. The abject display ultimately cost then-coach Gerardo Seoane his job.
Bayern were onto Leverkusen from the start and took a third minute lead via Leroy Sané. Jamal Musiala added a second on 17 minutes with Sadio Mané enjoying a brief moment of joy with the third five minutes before half time.
The Senegalese had another goal ruled out for offside in the second 45 minutes and it wasn’t until the 86th minute that Thomas Müller applied the finishing touch after Bayern had eased off somewhat against a clearly beaten opponent.
Players to watch:
This could be a battle of the strikers with both sides employing an attacking philosophy. Harry Kane has certainly delivered thus far, but the feeling is that he will really begin to come into his own when he has settled in further. He is going to face stiff competition this season if he wants to finish as the league’s top-scorer, so every goals counts.
If Harry Kane is seen as ‘The Best’, then Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface should be seen as ‘The Beast’. He has made the switch from Union St. Gilloise with ease and has already hit the scoring trail in the Bundesliga with four goals. He looks likely to score in every game at the moment and doing so at the Allianz Arena would just further enhance his burgeoning reputation.