Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich welcome Schalke 04 to the Allianz Arena this Saturday. The Royal Blues will travel to the Bavarians’ fortress without talismanic striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who sat out the international break with a burst blood vessel in his eye.
In his absence, here are five key head-to-head match ups that could decided the fate of the game in southern Germany.
Mario Mandzukic or Mario Gomez vs. Benedikt Howedes
Since his arrival from Wolfsburg over the summer, Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic has been in red-hot form for his new side. Having scored 14 times and set up two more in the league, Mandzukic is equally comfortable playing as a lone striker, out wide or as a number nine.
He’s established a great understanding with Bayern’s world class wing quartet, but should he be rested, his namesake Mario Gomez will lead the line for the current league leaders.
Gomez may have only scored two goals in eight games this season, but seven of those appearances have come off the bench, pointing to his scoring record since returning from injury. He had a terrific season last year and either he or his Croatian colleague will be up against Schalke skipper Benedikt Howedes.
The rock around which the Gelsenkirchen outfit are constructed, Howedes will need to be at his best to stop whoever leads the line for the home side.
Thomas Muller vs. Atsuto Uchida
If it is the left flank the versatile Muller is going to be stationed on, he will be up against Japanese full back Atsuto Uchida.
With eleven goals and nine assists in the league this season, Muller has been ever present in the Bavarian side’s lineup, having made Arjen Robben’s berth out wide his own; a feat far from easy to accomplish.
With regular left-back Christian Fuchs suspended, either Marko Hoger or Sead Kolosinac will be expected to go toe to toe with Muller if he plays on Bayern’s right.
A player who is as comfortable playing through the centre as he is playing out wide, Muller will surely be one of the Bavarians’ most potent weapons.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Julian Draxler
‘Basti’ is a man who bleeds Bayern through and through. In Julian Draxler, he meets someone who one day could pick up the Munich man’s mantle for the national team.
An absolute revelation for the Royal Blues this season, Draxler has been the subject of attention of many clubs across Europe with his calm, assured displays in the centre of the park.
Capable of excellent distribution in the centre of the park and in possession of a terrific shot, Draxler is as good going forwards as he is defending.
But his main job today evening when his side is not in possession of the ball will be to shackle Schweinsteiger and fellow midfielder Toni Kroos, who could cause extensive damage if not closed down quickly enough.
Philip Lahm vs. Michel Bastos
Michel Bastos announced his arrival in the German Bundesliga with an excellent debut that was capped by a sumptuous goal against Furth last season, despite his side losing the game.
Like all Brazilians, Bastos is skilled on the ball, is capable of turning on a penny and is blessed with pace and trickery. His ability to play as a left back and further up front the pitch makes the former Olympique Lyonnais man a sound investment for the Konigsblauen.
But he will come up against one of the league’s most formidable defenders in Philip Lahm. The Bayern skipper is part of a rearguard that has only conceded seven goals this season and he will be hard to get past.
With both players likely tasked with helping out both at the back and further up the pitch, this battle could be key in deciding who does win the game.
Teemu Pukki vs. Dante
With influential striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar out with an eye condition, Finn Pukki will most likely be tasked with leading the line for the visitors.
Although Jens Keller has other options in Romanian Ciprian Marica and Nigerian forward Chinedu Obasi, Pukki’s skill up front and the coach’s preference to pick him as second-choice behind Huntelaar means he will be given the opportunity to take centre stage tonight.
With lightning-quick pace and a composed finish, Pukki will have to pit his wits against Bayern’s giant Brazilian centre back Dante.
Recently capped against England, Dante has been one of Bayern’s stand out performers at the back this season, with his experience and maturity speaking volumes of the prowess he possesses. It will therefore be his job to blunt the Schalke strike force.Published 09 Feb 2013, 20:48 IST