A few observations on the Hannover match:
-The team was obviously beat and a little beat-up from the Pokal match. This wasn't going to be a game where we hung six or seven goals on anyone. Jupp Heynckes' decision to rest Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez was correct, however...
-Ivica Olic was mostly useless up front. After the Croatian international had fluffed three more than decent scoring chances, he was largely ignored by Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos. And indeed, after 60 minutes was subbed for Mario who promptly scored the match winner.
-Kroos had a decent stint as playmaker; creating chances and linking up very nicely with Robben. And his opening goal? Chipping a golf shot over Hannover keeper Ron Robert
Zieler? Truly a thing of beauty.
-Manuel Neuer had a, dare I say, Moenchengladbach-like performance? Thank goodness he kept his focus mid-week or we wouldn't be going to Berlin. Holger Badstuber saved Manuel's butt after he gave up possession to Diouf six yards out after mishandling a Jerome Boateng back pass. But, today's birthday boy redeemed himself late in the match with a diving save to prevent Boateng from scoring an own goal. (What is it with these two?! Frick and Frack, I tell ya.)
It's marvellous to get the three points out of that match. It wasn't pretty, by any means, but these are the types of games that you have to win to lift trophies. And with Borussia Dortmund hanging six unanswered goals on Koeln, it is imperative that we keep pace with the Bundesliga leaders.
But, now we're back in Champions League contention with Olympique de Marseille: A team that applied to the FFF to move their match over the weekend so they might be better-rested for the second leg in Munich next Tuesday. The French Football Federation agreed, naturally, as they also allowed Olympique Lyon to do the same against us a couple of years back.
Pfffffft, I say. Look where that got Lyon.
Marseille is not to be taken lightly, however, after beating Dortmund twice in the group stage and scoring a late goal to knock Inter Milan out of the competition. But Didier Deschamps' side is suffering from a crisis of confidence, losing seven matches straight before finally earning a draw this past weekend.
And to add insult to injury, les Phoceens are missing two key players to red cards suffered in the last Inter match. Starting goalkeeper, Steve Mandanda, will be replaced by third-string Elinton Andrade after second-string keeper, Gennaro Bracigliano, had a shocking showing in their cup exit. And Souleymane Diawara, the heart of OM's defence, now sits out both legs with a torn ACL. (He would have sat the first leg, regardless, due to a red.)
There are also fitness questions for Ghanaian international winger Andre Ayew (neck) and striker Loic Remy. Both will be match-day decisions. I will not even attempt to embarrass myself by trying to predict Marseilles' starting XI. We'll let Deschamps make all those tough calls.
On the Munich side of things, Bastian Schweinsteiger has made the trip to France, despite Franz-Josef Strauss International Airport ground workers going on strike. Daniel van Buyten, who says he's down to 145 pounds, is certainly not match fit, with Breno being the other long-term absentee. Jupp Heynckes has the rest of the squad to choose from, but I'm sure he'll be going with...
Neuer - Lahm, Boateng, Badstuber, Alaba - Gustavo, Kroos - Robben, Mueller, Ribery - Gomez.
Don't fix what ain't broke.
There are some parallels to be drawn with OM's current nose-dive and Bayern's form after the winter break. After all, the French side had enough class and talent to make it this far in Europe's premiere competition. But, with their starting line-up in such disarray, I can see the Reds stealing this one away. I'm looking forward to an angry French crowd being put in their places.
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