Bayern Munich hopes to bounce back from Champions League disappointment when it faces Schalke, the team with the best away record in the Bundesliga this season.
Bayern, which lost 2-0 at home to Bordeaux on Tuesday and faces an uphill struggle to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League, meets former coach Felix Magath on Saturday. Magath was fired by Bayern despite leading them to two successive domestic doubles.
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In January 2007, after a 0-0 draw against Bochum dropped Bayern to fourth place, Magath was sent packing. Ottmar Hitzfeld returned to the club and Bayern won another double.
Magath moved on and won another Bundesliga title last season with Wolfsburg. Then he left to take over Schalke and is bidding to lead the club to its first championship in 51 years.
Now, Schalke is above Bayern in the standings and Magath’s team is earning accolades for its spirited play.
Bayern in contrast has been laboring in the Bundesliga as well as Europe, already raising questions about coach Louis van Gaal’s future at the club.
“The frustration is there,” defender Philipp Lahm said. “We are under great pressure, in the league and internationally. We are in a difficult stage.”
Schalke, coming off draws at home to league-leaders Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburger SV, has won more points away than at home, 13 to 8. Its total of 21 puts it in fourth place, while Bayern is sixth on 19.
“Our backs are to the wall, it’s a like a final,” Lahm said.
Leverkusen, which leads with 23 points, kicks off the 12th round Friday at home against Eintracht Frankfurt.
The other top teams play Sunday – Hamburger SV (22 points) in Hannover, Werder Bremen (22) at home to Borussia Dortmund. Fifth-place Hoffenheim (20) hosts defending champion Wolfsburg (18) on Saturday.
Magath believes Bayern’s loss to Bordeaux could make the hosts more dangerous as they strive to impress their disappointed fans.
“I can’t predict but I can imagine that it could make our life difficult,” he said.
His captain Heiko Westermann, however, thinks that could be to Schalke’s advantage.
“They have to act, they have to create pressure and that could work for us,” said Westermann, whose team has excelled at counterattacking.
Another loss could threaten van Gaal’s job. Criticism of the Dutchman has been growing in recent weeks and many commentators have pointed out that his predecessor, Juergen Klinsmann, had more points at home and in the Champions League at this stage last season than Bayern has now.
Coincidentally, Klinsmann got fired five games before the end of the last season after losing to Schalke 1-0 at home.
Van Gaal has not started two games with the same lineup and has repeatedly tinkered with the team’s formation as he struggles to find a winning formula.
The game in Munich will also feature Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who was the target of an unsuccessful transfer bid by Bayern in the offseason. Bayern has said it remains interested in the goalkeeper, although it also does not expect Magath to release him.
Neuer insists the game has no special importance for him.
“The only thing special is that it’s my 100th Bundesliga game,” Neuer said.