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It is a measure of the high standards that Bayern Munich have set in recent years that a run of a defeat, a draw and a win can be interpreted by some as a sign of crisis. It is important not to go overboard when describing the champions’ relative struggles of late. Even Bayern, after all, are entitled to the occasional off-day. Yet anyone who has watched the Bundesliga leaders in any of their last three outings will be able to attest that Julian Nagelsmann’s side are not firing on all cylinders right now.
The sticky patch began with a shock 4-2 loss to Bochum a fortnight ago. Bayern had won their previous three league games and many predicted a one-sided thrashing at the Vonovia Ruhrstadion. In the end it almost was – but Bayern were the victims this time. A remarkable blitz in which Bochum scored three goals in six first-half minutes put the game to bed before the interval. Bayern were left shell-shocked, and Borussia Dortmund’s win on the same day saw the gap at the top of the Bundesliga narrow to six points.
Bayern followed that up with an underwhelming display against Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. A Kingsley Coman goal in the 90th minute was required for the six-time kings of Europe to rescue a 1-1 draw in Austria. Then, last weekend, Bayern fell behind to last-placed Greuther Furth at home before rallying to register a much-needed 4-1 victory.
Bayern do not usually show signs of vulnerability, so their recent dip has been the subject of much discussion in Germany. In all likelihood, Nagelsmann’s side will soon recapture the imperious form which has put them in a commanding position as they seek a 10th consecutive title. For now, though, Dortmund’s title hopes are still alive.
This has been a strange season for Eintracht Frankfurt. Now under the stewardship of Oliver Glasner, who replaced Adi Hutter last summer as part of the Bundesliga’s managerial merry-go-round, they only won one of their first 10 matches of the season – against Bayern Munich. Frankfurt then proceeded to triumph in six of their next seven games, becoming the most in-form team in the division. Since then, they have won only one of their last six outings.
Consistency over a sustained period has been elusive for Glasner. His side head into this weekend’s contest having lost back-to-back games to Wolfsburg and Koln without scoring a goal. They have kept only one clean sheet since the middle of November. Six points adrift of the top six, their hopes of European qualification are hanging by a thread.
If anything, the underlying statistics suggest Frankfurt could easily be lower in the standings. They rank 12th on expected goal difference, a measure of the quality of chances a team creates and concedes. Glasner has problems to solve at both ends of the field.
Yet Frankfurt have demonstrated a knack for occasionally pulling big results out of the bag. As well as that win against Bayern, they have beaten Bayer Leverkusen 5-2 and overcome Freiburg and Union Berlin, two European hopefuls.
Bayern will have to make do without Thomas Muller on Saturday after the Germany international returned a positive test for Covid-19. That is a blow. Muller is one of Bayern’s most reliable performers, and his tally of seven goals and 16 assists this term is evidence of his decisiveness in the final third.
Jamal Musiala could replace Muller as the team’s No.10, or Nagelsmann could move away from the 4-2-3-1 formation. Reports this week suggest the Bayern boss is mulling a switch to a three-man backline, although it is unclear who would fill the wing-back roles. Alphonso Davies has the attributes to excel in a more advanced berth on the left, but there is no one with similar qualities who could play on the right.
Whichever shape Bayern use this weekend, they will probably have too much quality for their opponents. But it is notable that the champions have now gone four league games without a clean sheet. If they do switch to a back three, there could be teething problems. The best bet for this weekend is therefore a Bayern win and both teams to score.
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|Eintracht Frankfurt vs Bayern Munich Information|
|Teams||Eintracht Frankfurt vs Bayern Munich|
|Location||Deutsche Bank Park, Frankfurt, Germany|
|Time||Saturday, 26 February 2022, 12.30 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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