FC Bayern Munich vs Hertha Berlin

Meetings with old friends will abound for players on both sides Saturday when FC Bayern Munich hosts Hertha Berlin. The match is set to kick off at 15:30 CET. ESPN Deportes will have live coverage and ESPN3.com will have a live stream both from 9:30 a.m. Eastern. ESPN UK has delayed coverage from 21:45 BST. Eurosport 2 will have live coverage across many European countries – check your local listing.

The Return of the Natives (and Others)
He just wouldn’t be human if he didn’t have this date circled on his calendar (unless of course, he’s a modern man and has no need for a wall calendar). Still, Thomas Kraft wasn’t letting on to any score-settling impulses he might have in the inevitably uncomfortable interviews he had to give this week. He’s done well enough this season, with Hertha conceding 9 goals in 8 matches. But only those interested in hyperbole over football will be scanning the stands for the odd keeper controversy banner this weekend

The greatest focus on an ex-Munich man in the team ought to be on Christian Lell. The free-wheeling fullback who seemingly spent more time in court than on the pitch in Munich has rehabilitated his career in Berlin. He’s forced commentators to stop using the term “offensive” ironically when describing his play after watching him link up with Patrick Ebert. Lell even found his name bewilderingly brought up in a Jogi Löw press conference a couple weeks back. While he shouldn’t expect a call up anytime soon (and really you can drop the soon), he’s been an asset to a side that needs a stingy defense to win consistently. The Renaissance Lell was dropped for a more Classical Lell two weeks ago against Bremen though, when he was sent off for a 2nd yellow early in the 2nd half.

Hertha’s attack is facilitated more through the center of the pitch rather than from the edges. A lot of this is due to the speed and creativity of Raffael, but it has the danger of becoming one-dimensional. This is a team that simply doesn’t cross the ball all that often, with one of the lowest rates in the league. But the emergence of Änis Ben-Hatira against Cologne last week might give Hertha that added dimension on the flank.

Ben-Hatira could end up locked in some battles with his friend Jerome Boateng Saturday, and the latter caused much hilarity in Thursday’s press conference, relating the details of a friendly wager between the two. Ben-Hatira will win a fish stick dinner prepared by Mama Boateng if Hertha should win, while Boateng will be treated to Tunisian food from Ben-Hatira’s mom in the event of a Bayern win. Boateng was at something of a loss to describe what might make his mother’s fish sticks particularly special: “they just somehow taste different” was Ben-Hatira’s claim, according to Boateng.

Markus Babbel appears to have Adrian Ramos available again after injury threatened to derail his return from suspension. The 25 year-old Colombian has scored against Bayern in each of his last 2 matches against them, an increasingly rare distinction. If Ramos can’t handle 90 minutes, Pierre-Michel Lasogga stands ready to build on his 2-goal outing last week.

Of course, if Hertha finds no way through, there’s always the Andi Ottl rocket shot from distance. The other hometown returnee seems to specialize in those long distance goals when you least expect them..
Robben Update
Magic 8 ball says:

Heynckes says: “It’s impossible to be more precise about the healing process”

Jupp the Obscure
Jupp Heynckes has a little more to work with as Bayern gets back down to business after the international break. Heynckes was fairly hamstrung with selection problems in Hoffenheim, but that doesn’t appear to be the case this time around. Franck Ribery has been pronounced fit after his bout with calf difficulties. Rafinha has recovered more slowly than expected, but was a participant in Thursday’s team training session. Heynckes may still be eying a start for Jerome Boateng at right back to dampen Ben-Hatira’s influence outside. Ivica Olic makes his 2nd heralded return to the squad as well. It remains to be seen who Olic will bounce into the stands. With Luiz Gustavo experiencing the joys of jetlag, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is your likely starter next to Schweinsteiger. In fact, with a critical Champions League match on Tuesday, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to just let Gustavo get cycled back into sync and give Pranjic a spot on the bench. In a nod to the factor fatigue played in the Hoffenheim draw, Heynckes gave all the international players who saw action in two matches the day off on Thursday.

Against Hertha, Bayern should work to get away from what became a bit of an over-reliance on attacking down the left. Hertha left back Levan Kobiashvili is the definite weak spot in the back line, which makes an appetizing target for Thomas Müller, while a possible start at RB for Boateng could give him a chance to show some more of the rare offensive flair that sneaked to the forefront against Hoffenheim.

Aggression in attack will pay off for Bayern: Hertha commits the 2nd most fouls per match of any team in the league, and is tied for most yellow cards given. Referee Michael Weiner has become something of a good luck charm the last two seasons, and has issued 4 yellows on average this season. He issued 4 alone to HSV in their match in Munich earlier this season.

Stalines
Hertha Berlin was one of only four 2. Bundesliga teams against which Nils Petersen did NOT score a goal last season on his way to the goal-scoring crown with Energie Cottbus.

Referee Weiner was also in charge of Christian Lell’s last match for Bayern Munich, a snowy 2010 DFB Pokal quarterfinal against Greuther Fürth.

While Ramos may have scored in his last 2 matches against Bayern, returnee Ivica Olic has scored in each of his last two matches against his one-time club.
Prediction
The winless streak of Hertha Berlin in Munich, longer than the lifespan of many of our readers, has been well documented. Although the historical factors aren’t particularly relevant on game day, I don’t see a lot to change the tide. Hertha is capable of being outplayed in many phases of the game, and still coming through with the twists of skill and luck to beat a superior opponent, as they showed at Dortmund. But those don’t come around so frequently. Bayern’s luck changes when Toni Kroos gets mad after a slow start, and Boateng stars to make sure his order goes through..
FC Bayern Munich 3:0 Hertha Berlin

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