The injury to Jerome Boateng, the cornerstone of Pep Guardiola's defense, has threatened to derail Bayern's season ambitions. Without the German defender, Bayern face Hoffenheim on Sunday.
Jerome Boateng didn't take long to signal to the bench. An innocuous stumble as he attempted to clear the ball has left the German champions without perhaps their most valuable player for around three months of the season.
"There's no question he's the best defender in the world," sporting director Matthias Sammer commented recently. Boateng's injury reopens the rift around Pep Guardiola's training methods. German sports magazine "Kicker" reported Thursday that the atmosphere in the camp is "not good."
Boateng was the 14th Bayern player to suffer injury this season as the debate around injuries at the club continue. Last year, long-term club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt quit following disagreements with Guardiola. Club CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, however, blamed the injury issues on the German FA and the number of internationals to be played.
On the pitch, Guardiola said he needs to find a solution quickly ahead of the Champions League clash with Juventus next month. Medhi Benatia won't be back until mid-February, which leaves Bayern with just Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez. The pair have featured together as a partnership once in Bayern colors having spent most of their time in the last 18 months recovering from long-term injury. Austrian David Alaba, the team's Swiss Army Knife player who can play in multiple positions, is unproven in central defense.
How Guardiola deals with the current injury situation may prove pivotal in the final reckoning when the German champions return to European competition. With an eight-point advantage, Bayern continues its quest for a treble in 2016 with a home match against Hoffenheim on Sunday.
Schmidt vs. Schubert
Friday's game kicks off matchday 19, but is extremely important for Mainz and Borussia Mönchengladbach who both lost last weekend. In fact, the Foals, since beating Bayern Munich 3-1, have been on an alarming slump with several defeats in winter preparation and against Borussia Dortmund last Saturday evening.
Andre Schubert, now permanent coach, led a mini-resurgence at Borussia-Park with 10 matches unbeaten in the league following five straight defeats at the start of the season. Since then, form has dipped with three defeats on the spin, bringing an end to Champions League and German Cup participation. Including friendlies, Gladbach has conceded 10 goals in its previous three outings.
"It is now about finding solutions, how we can defend as best as possible with the players available to us without neglecting our strengths in attack," Schubert explained. "We will absolutely not start sitting back. Of course we want to concede fewer goals because that gives us a greater chance of picking up points."
Granit Xhaka is still suspended following his red card against Darmstadt, but Schubert's midfield woes are compounded by absences to Mahmoud Dahoud and Jonas Hofmann. Martin Stranzl's return could be the boost Schubert has been looking for in recent weeks.
Mainz are boosted by Monday's news that Yunus Malli, the club's top scorer with eight this season, will not be joining Borussia Dortmund. Although the Carnival Club lost at Ingolstadt last week, Martin Schmidt's side are just five points off a Champions League position.
Bundesliga Matchday 19 fixtures:
Mainz vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Friday)
Borussia Dortmund vs. FC Ingolstadt (Saturday)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hannover
Augsburg vs. Frankfurt
Werder Bremen vs. Hertha BSC
Darmstadt vs. Schalke
Stuttgart vs. Hamburg
Wolfsburg vs. Cologne (Sunday)
Bayern Munich vs. Hoffenheim