Niko Kovac says Bayern Munich need to prove their shock defeat to Hoffenheim was only a Champions League hangover in their bid to reclaim top spot in the Bundesliga Saturday. Bayern followed up their 7-2 thrashing of Tottenham in the Champions League by crashing to a 2-1 loss in the Bundesliga a fortnight ago when mid-table Hoffenheim earned their first win at the Allianz Arena.
In the process, Moenchengladbach topped the table and Bayern dropped to third with five other teams all within two points of first place. Now Kovac wants a win this weekend at Augsburg, where Bayern conceded a first-minute Leon Goretzka own-goal and needed two Kingsley Coman goals to earn a 3-2 win in February.
“There are teams all over Europe who have problems in their league after Champions League games,” said Kovac on Thursday.
“Hoffenheim were better than their place in the table (12th) suggested – the same goes for Augsburg (14th).
“We know that is a hard place to win, we were a goal down after 10 seconds there last season.
“I expect a game in which we will have to hang in there and make the most of our opportunities.”
Fresh from scoring a hat-trick for Poland, and helping them qualify for the Euro 2020 finals, Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski can equal the league record by scoring at Augsburg to continue his run of a goal in each of the first eight games. The 31-year-old is in blistering form with 15 goals, including 11 in the Bundesliga, so far in 11 matches in all competitions.
Kovac said Germany winger Serge Gnabry, who had a leg knock, and French defender Lucas Hernandez (knee) were both “ready to play”. Things are so tight in the top half of the table that seventh-placed Bayer Leverkusen could move into first place by beating Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday night.
“It’s striking that the league is divided into two parts,” acknowledged Kovac.
“Many of the top teams play in Europe, but I think that Leipzig, Dortmund and Leverkusen will stay at the top for a long time.” Despite Kovac’s confidence in Bayern’s rivals Dortmund, Lucien Favre’s team must end their run of three consecutive 2-2 league draws — in which they have thrown away the lead on each occasion — at home to current leaders Gladbach on Saturday.
On Thursday, Dortmund extended the contract of Euro 2016 winner Raphael Guerreiro until 2023, but Favre says it is still “too early” for striker Paco Alcacer, who has an Achilles tendon injury. Favre says Dortmund must improve “five to ten percent” to beat Gladbach and close the four-point gap behind the leaders.
One to watch: Thomas Mueller
The 2014 World Cup winner has started Bayern’s last six games on the bench — “a trend that doesn’t make (him) happy” — with Kovac preferring Philippe Coutinho in the attacking midfielder role behind Lewandowski. Mueller could start at Augsburg after Coutinho endured a mammoth round-trip to Singapore, on duty with Brazil, for internationals against Senegal and Nigeria.
On Thursday, Kovac admitted he “made a mistake” by saying the 30-year-old Mueller, who has made 495 appearances for Bayern and helped them win eight Bundesliga title, will only be called upon off the bench “in case of emergencies” and held clear-the-air talks.
1.57 – the number of goals Lewandowski has scored on average per Bundesliga game this season.
52 – his projected goal tally for 34 matches in the 2019/20 season if he maintains his present average. It would beat the record of 40 Gerd Mueller set in 1971/72.
88 & 90 – the minutes in which Dortmund have conceded own-goals in two of their last three matches – all of which ended in 2-2 draws.
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