Julian Nagelsmann expressed his desire to see Robert Lewandowski receive a warm welcome on his Bayern Munich return, as he backed the striker to continue his fine start to life at Barcelona.

Lewandowski, who scored 238 Bundesliga goals during an eight-year spell with the Bavarian giants before heading to Camp Nou in July, has made a scintillating start to his Barcelona career. 

The Poland international has scored six goals in his first five outings in LaLiga, and turned on the style with a hat-trick in Barca's 5-1 Champions League thrashing of Viktoria Plzen last week.

Lewandowski will make a swift return to Munich with his new club for Tuesday's huge Champions League fixture, and despite the less-than-amicable nature of his departure, Nagelsmann believes he should be received warmly.

"If I see him before [the game] then I'm certainly going to give him my hand. I'm not sure if I'll see him beforehand, usually I don't," Nagelsmann said.

"I'm looking forward to our fans welcoming him back. When a player has been so strong for the team over the years, I think it's important. 

"He was an important part of the Bayern family. We had a personal exchange a couple of weeks back, not regarding football. I am looking forward to seeing him again."

Asked about Lewandowski's start to life in Spain, Nagelsmann added: "I think he can still continue to play at that level for a couple of years, I'm not sure how many goals he can score this season, I'm no genie. 

"I think it will be plenty. He has scored 40 plus usually, so I think he can do that in the Spanish league as well.

"I'm not sure if he's the most dangerous, but he's certainly one of their most dangerous players, the one that can score the most goals. They have great solutions there.

"Lewandowski always has great runs and positions inside the box. He's the most dangerous in front of goal, but if he doesn't get a lot of balls, it's difficult [for him]."

Having coached Lewandowski when he brought up a half-century of goals in all competitions last term, Nagelsmann is acutely aware of his talents, and believes Dayot Upamecano's past experiences of facing him could aid Bayern. 

"I have plenty of positions that I'm already pretty clear on," Nagelsmann added. "Upamecano has memories of playing against Lewandowski, back when he was at RB Leipzig. He knows him from our practice as well."

While Upamecano is set to start at the Allianz Arena, Leon Goretzka will not, as Nagelsmann looks to ease the midfielder in following his injury lay-off.

"The position next to Joshua [Kimmich] is going to be [Marcel] Sabitzer," Nagelsmann said. 

"I've had a chat with Leon, it was my decision to keep him on [against Stuttgart on Saturday]. We decided to keep him on for 94 minutes, that was a long time for him after the injury. He reacted well to it and is feeling good. 

"Him having to play from the start is not going to happen, we need him for the whole season and don't want to give him too many minutes at the start."

Meanwhile, Barcelona have suffered eight Champions League defeats to Bayern – twice as many as they have lost against any other opponent (4 vs Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain).

Bayern also boast a 100 per cent record against the Blaugrana in the group stages and beat them twice in the competition last term, but Nagelsmann is keen to draw a line under those past meetings.

"We know Barcelona. They have a completely new mindset. You can delete the last few games against Barca from your memory, it's a whole different team, very aggressive," he said. "It reminds us of when Xavi still used to play himself. 

"In Gavi and Pedri they have great number eights that have great pressing actions as well. There's a great development there for the team, Xavi did a few things really well in the last weeks and months.

"They want to attack in a new way, and they're going to be very difficult opponents tomorrow."

Sadio Mane is a "top player" who "you can only sit back and watch", says Bayern Munich team-mate Alphonso Davies after Sunday's 2-0 win over Wolfsburg.

The Senegal international, who arrived from Liverpool ahead of the start of the 2022-23 season, has made an instant impact at his new home, setting the Bundesliga alight with his performances.

A superb league debut in a 6-1 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt last week saw him get himself on the scoresheet, and only a VAR intervention stopped him from finding it again this weekend.

But even without another goal to his name, Mane - who fired the Reds to a domestic cup double last term and his country to Africa Cup of Nations glory, plus World Cup qualification - has left his team-mates impressed.

"Sadio Mane, you see this guy, he's a top player," Davies told the Bundesliga's official website. "He's hard-working, he's fast, we try to get the ball to him as much as possible because he's a very quick guy.

"He's a good player. We're happy to have him here. He feels good in the team and as you can see, the performances he's [shown] lately, you can only just sit back and watch."

Dayot Upamecano also offered high praise for the forward, adding: "We know he's a very big player, he's helping us a lot. We're all very happy he's here.

"He gave me tips about a lot of things. He's one of the best players in the world and everyone of us is happy that he's here."

With two wins from two to start the new season, Bayern are flying in defence of their Bundesliga crown, one they earned last year despite a string of so-so performances and a frustrating Champions League campaign.

But Davies feels they have turned a page this term for Julian Nagelsmann's sophomore season, adding: "This year, we have a mindset that we want to keep.

"Last year wasn't too ideal for us in [the] competitions but this year, we have some new faces [and] fresh legs. It's the beginning of the season, you want to keep this momentum going. We're just enjoying playing football."

Lucas Hernandez and Tanguy Nianzou have tested positive for COVID-19, Bayern Munich have confirmed.

The club said in a statement that the pair have entered isolation and are "both well".

They will miss Bayern's Bundesliga clash with Borussia Monchengladbach on Friday – the champions' first match after the mid-season break.

France international Hernandez has made 19 appearances across all competitions this season, while teenager Nianzou has featured in 13 games, although just four of those have been starts.

Bayern also revealed that Leroy Sane, Dayot Upamecano and Josip Stanisic returned inconclusive results.

Julian Nagelsmann's side resume Bundesliga action with a nine-point advantage over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table.

Julian Nagelsmann expressed his satisfaction with Bayern Munich as the Bavarians head into the mid-season Bundesliga break top of the table.

Bayern cruised to a 4-0 victory on Friday over Wolfsburg, with Thomas Muller – who was making his 400th league appearance for the reigning champions – scoring the first and assisting Dayot Upamecano's second.

Leroy Sane soon added a curling third before Robert Lewandowski sealed victory as the Poland striker netted his 43rd top-flight goal of 2021, surpassing Gerd Muller's long-standing calendar-year record for Bundesliga goals, set in 1972 (42).

Bayern boast a nine-point lead over second-placed Borussia Dortmund, who play their game in hand against Hertha Berlin on Saturday, and former RB Leipzig head coach Nagelsmann has been pleased with his side's efforts to date.

In the three points-for-a-win era, Bayern have won the title in 14 of the 15 seasons they have topped the league at the halfway point.

"I'm very satisfied with our first half of the season," Nagelsmann told reporters. "It's not simple to score this many goals against such a compact defence. 

"We had very good control and pressed even better in the second half. The key was counter-pressing: we won the ball high and closed all gaps.

"I'm very happy with the performance. We played a lot of games recently; the first half was more difficult. The initial phase was good, then we slowed down a bit. Then [Wout] Weghorst had a chance, we were lucky, or we had a good goalkeeper, maybe a mixture of both.

"The way we played in the second half was great. The goals were outstanding."

On Lewandowski's landmark strike, Nagelsmann added: "I was very happy that he scored. It was a wonderful goal – Lewy played a great game."

Nagelsmann also reserved praise for Upamecano, who made a staggering 103 passes in Wolfsburg's half – a game-leading figure – while also leading Bayern for tackles made (five) and possession won (14 times).

"He scored a goal, which is great," the Bayern head coach continued. "We know how important it is to have goalscoring defenders when the opponent sits very deep. 

"He was very focused today. Overall, he's having a good season, except for a couple of games. We shouldn't forget he's young, he isn't 28."

Thomas Muller starred on a milestone appearance and Robert Lewandowski broke a long-standing Gerd Muller record as Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich cruised to a 4-0 victory over Wolfsburg on Friday.

Muller marked his 400th top-flight outing for Bayern with the opening goal after seven minutes at the Allianz Arena, before the Germany international teed up Dayot Upamecano for a second after the interval.

Leroy Sane added a third for Julian Nagelsmann's side and Lewandowski was able to find a record 43rd league goal in 2021 to surpass Bayern legend's Gerd Muller's long-standing Bundesliga calendar-year scoring record as the hosts cruised to victory.
 
Leaders Bayern hold a nine-point advantage at the summit, with Dortmund – who play Hertha Berlin on Saturday – sat in second heading into the mid-season break.

Bayern were soon ahead when Muller poked home from close range after Koen Casteels had parried Serge Gnabry's strike, before Manuel Neuer thwarted Wout Weghorst at the other end.

Jamal Musiala almost doubled Bayern's lead but dragged wide, while Casteels denied Lewandowski's header from point-blank range.

Muller delicately chipped for Upamecano to head into the bottom-left corner after the interval, with Sane expertly curling in via the left post just two minutes later.

Lewandowski then had two opportunities to break Gerd Muller's benchmark, but wastefully prodded over with the first before an excellent Casteels save denied him from the second.

The Poland striker eventually managed his landmark finish when Musiala selflessly headed across goal for the Poland striker to volley in as Bayern eased to victory.


What does it mean? Bayern title favourites again heading into mid-season break

Bayern, who have not lost any of their last 25 home league matches against Wolfsburg, once again head into the mid-season break top of the Bundesliga – this time leading by at least six points, with Dortmund set to play their game in hand against Hertha Berlin on Saturday.

In the three points-per-win era, the Bavarians have won the title in 14 of the 15 seasons when they have been at the summit at the halfway point. By contrast, Wolfsburg have now lost seven consecutive competitive matches.

Gnabry the Great

Muller and Lewandowski seemingly steal the plaudits most weeks, but Gnabry's dominant performance should not go under the radar.

The Germany winger not only provided an assist but also laid on a team-leading three chances – along with full-back Alphonso Davies and Musiala – as he ensured a torrid game for Yannick Gerhardt at left wing-back.

Woeful Weghorst

Weghorst wasted a glorious opportunity to equalise immediately after Muller's opener and that set the tone for a frustrating performance from the striker.

The Netherlands international cut an isolated figure up top, winning just over a third of his 14 duels, while relinquishing possession a team-high 18 times.

What's next?

The Bundesliga now takes a break until 2022. Bayern return to action at home to Borussia Monchengladbach on January 7, while Wolfsburg visit Bochum two days later. 

Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano said Robert Lewandowski and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema are both worthy of this year's Ballon d'Or.

Lewandowski and Benzema are among the nominees for football's most prestigious individual award – the 30-man shortlist will be whittled down to just three players.

Upamecano is team-mates with Lewandowski at Bundesliga champions Bayern, while he also plays alongside Benzema for World Cup and Nations League holders France.

Asked about Lewandowski and Benzema ahead of Bayern's Champions League fixture with Benfica on Wednesday, Upamecano replied: "Very good question!

"Lewandowski or Benzema, both of them deserve it [Ballon d'Or]. They are the two best strikers in the world. They prove it year after year.

"If Lewandowski wins, I would be very happy for him because he is my team-mate at Bayern. If Benzema wins, I also would be very happy for him."

Prior to Madrid's 5-0 rout of Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, Benzema had been involved in more shot-ending sequences of play (76) than any other player in the Champions League.

In this same period, Lionel Messi (12) was the only player who had recorded more multi-shot involvements than Benzema (10), which captures all instances of sequences where a player is both involved in the build-up and takes the shot.

Meanwhile, Lewandowski has scored five goals in six Champions League appearances against Portuguese opponents, including three against Benfica – no player has ever scored more times against sides from Portugal in the competition.

Bayern are on a record unbeaten run of 19 matches away from home in Champions League (W15 D4), netting 54 goals during this streak since losing 3-0 at Paris Saint-Germain in September 2017. Over a third of their goals in this unbeaten run have been scored by their Lewandowski (19 – 35 per cent).

German giants Bayern's eight unbeaten matches against Benfica in the European Cup/Champions League (W5 D3) is the joint-most by a team against an opponent since the tournament began in 1955 – Bayern versus Spartak Moscow (W5 D3) and Barcelona versus Lyon (W5 D3) have also faced eight times without ever losing.

Since the start of last season, Bayern have averaged more goals (3.2) and have a higher expected goals tally (2.6) per game than any other team in the Champions League. Among teams involved in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 tournaments, they also have the highest shot conversion rate in this period (18.3 per cent).

Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano may be fierce in the heat of battle, but Julian Nagelsmann says his centre-back is so peaceful he would hesitate to swat a fly.

Both Upamecano and Nagelsmann joined the Bayern ranks in the close season, leaving RB Leipzig to join the nine-in-a-row Bundesliga champions.

On Wednesday, Bayern take on Benfica in the third round of Champions League group games, looking to extend a dazzling start that has seen them beat Barcelona 3-0 and score a thumping 5-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev.

Manuel Neuer is in line for a 100th appearance in the competition with the Bavarians, which would make him the fourth player for the German giants to reach the landmark.

In front of Neuer, Upamecano is establishing himself as a fixture at the heart of the Bayern backline, and head coach Nagelsmann is convinced there is a hardman element to his game, as well as the nature of a gentle giant.

"Upamecano has taken an incredible development, he has an incredible defender's gene," said Nagelsmann.

"He loves to defend. Obviously, he has a good physique. He seems mad when looking at him but he's the opposite. He is a really kind and peaceful person that has a great character. I like working with him. He's rather shy and introspective but he is a great human being.

"He looks a lot more evil than he is. I think he has never in his life hit a mosquito on the wall and probably won't do that in the future. Also from his family, he got a lot of positive things on his way while growing up. You still notice that today."

Bayern thumped Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 in the Bundesliga on Sunday, scoring all their goals by the 37th minute as Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry both hit doubles.

The result sent Bayern to the top of the table, their now familiar position.

"There's always potential to improve," said Nagelsmann. "The question is if you have to improve or stay at your level. We'd be happy if we could keep the level of the minutes seven to 45 from the Leverkusen game. Then we could have a great away game in the Champions League."

Speaking in his pre-game news conference, the Bayern boss added: "I expect Benfica to be typically like a great team from Portugal with great footballers. They have two, three key players who I don't want to mention here because then they could prepare accordingly. But basically they're a team that like to have the ball and are used to it from their league. They had different possession stats in the first two Champions League games than in the league."

Bayern have never lost to Benfica in European competition, posting seven wins and three draws in their 10 previous games, including two victories in the Champions League.

In the history of the European Cup and its subsequent Champions League guise, Bayern's eight unbeaten games against Benfica (W5 D3) is the joint most achieved by one team against an opponent since the tournament began in 1955. That means a record could be achieved on Wednesday, surpassing Bayern's eight-game undefeated record against Spartak Moscow (W5 D3) and Barcelona's proud record in clashes with Lyon (W5 D3).

The omens are good: Bayern Munich are on a run of 19 unbeaten away matches in the Champions League (W15 D4), since losing 3-0 at Paris Saint-Germain in September 2017.

They must be wary, though, that Benfica drubbed Barcelona 3-0 last time out in this competition.

Nagelsmann addressed the question of whether the Bundesliga might be becoming boring, given Bayern are clearly so strong compared to their rivals. It would be a major surprise were they not to carry off the title again this season.

"I don't know, I'm on the other side now," said Nagelsmann, previously boss of a Leipzig team that fought to challenge the Bavarian giants. "I think it is always easier to do everything yourself to be successful and not get into whining mode. I always acted like that and I think it's better that way.

"Of course, it is easier to speak from my position as Bayern manager now. It is easier managing a team with this quality, this greed and the desire to confirm your victories. I think that our team is being rated unfairly, leaving out the lack of tension in the league.

"But first, you have to give credit if a team is able to become champions 10 times in a row and still having this greed after [the treble-winning campaign of] 2020 and wanting to continue. I think it is remarkable to talk about our effort of character and not just the quality that we have, that's for sure."

Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann defended Dayot Upamecano's performance in Sunday's 2-1 Bundesliga upset at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt.

A run of 30 matches without defeat at home was snapped by Eintracht, who stunned the Bundesliga champions and leaders thanks to Martin Hinteregger and Filip Kostic at Allianz Arena.

Upamecano was criticised following his display, with the off-season recruit from RB Leipzig punished for losing possession as Kostic scored the 83rd-minute winner.

Asked about France international centre-back Upamecano, Nagelsmann told reporters: "I didn't have a conversation with Dayot Upamecano yet. After the game, there is sadly no time for me.

"The whole chain, has done a lot of steps forward in the recent weeks. They have done it better before though. They were all not so clear with their actions.

"That's why the opponent had that many counter attacks. Kostic has done it very hard for us today and has scored the goal in that duel.

"Upa has played a lot of good games since he is here and today a weaker one. That can happen."

 

Bayern had been in scintillating form heading into this match against Eintracht, whom they had beaten in 12 successive home league matches prior to Sunday's visit.

Nagelsmann's Bayern, who last tasted defeat on home soil in the German top flight against Bayer Leverkusen some 31 games ago, are now level with the latter atop the summit heading into the international break.

"First of all, congratulations Oliver [Glasner] and your team," Nagelsmann said after Leon Goretzka's 29th-minute opener was cancelled out within three minutes. "I think this was a game, which we didn't need to lose. It started to look like this in the second half, where we did not have a good structure anymore. This game wasn't a lot different, from the games before, just the result was.

"We did have a lot of chances today and unlike in [Dynamo] Kiev and Bochum, we just didn't score the goals. We only scored one, which could have been enough. Despite that, the game was very similar. Now it is the international break and we will have some time afterwards to go over those scenarios. There is a lot to take out of the last three games, where we could have done similar things better, want to make better and will do better. In the end, there were two very dangerous counter attacks. Once we had a lot of luck, that Frankfurt did not pass the ball deeper earlier, to then go 2-0 ahead.

"Instead Manuel [Neuer] was able to get the ball. With the goal we conceded, we had a feeling in the second half. [Djibril] Sow had a lot of time on the ball and dribbled four metres sideways. That was most of the time like this. Very rarely, Frankfurt had the pressure to pass the ball into the depth. Instead, they had a lot of time in their actions. That cost us the true pressure-phase in the second half.

"We weren't able to build up the pressure, from a secured defence. In nine out of 10 situations, we got out of our box. We had to run then back into that deep block, then one counter, we couldn't get and that went in. Whether we deserved it or not, we had 20 shots on target to their five and it doesn't matter if it was deserved. We lost. Frankfurt did well and we could have done a lot of things better to win. It is like this now, that's why I will still continue and we will look forward to the game against Leverkusen after the international break."

Aurelien Tchouameni said he is inspired by Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante as the Monaco sensation continues to be linked with Chelsea and Manchester United.

Tchouameni is reportedly wanted by Premier League giants Chelsea and United following his exploits in Ligue 1.

Before the weekend's fixtures, the 21-year-old midfielder ranked first in possessions won (209) and tackles won (52) in the top five European leagues in 2021, while he was tied for fifth in duels won (221).

Tchouameni's performances under Niko Kovac earned a France call-up for the first time as Les Bleus face Bosnia-Herzegovina in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday before continuing their road to Qatar 2022 against Ukraine on Saturday and Finland on September 7.

Amid speculation over his future heading into the international break, Tchouameni was asked about his inspirations, and he told reporters: "I followed a lot what [United midfielder] Paul [Pogba] was doing. Since he started his career.

"Now I have the chance to be with him and [Chelsea midfielder] N'Golo [Kante]. They are players who are very successful at their clubs, so I try to see what they do and take inspiration from their strong characteristics.

"There are also some players I didn't get to see play at the time, like Patrick Vieira. Foreign players too, like [Manchester City and Belgium midfielder] Kevin De Bruyne. I try to look at everything that is good in the midfield and their characteristics to inspire me."

Meanwhile, France head coach Didier Deschamps will be without Dayot Upamecano for the three World Cup qualifiers after the Bayern Munich centre-back suffered a right thigh injury.

Upamecano has been replaced in the squad by Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet.

Dayot Upamecano has claimed he turned down an opportunity to join Manchester United as a teenager because Ralf Rangnick presented such a persuasive alternative.

The defender, who will leave RB Leipzig to join Bayern Munich at the end of this season, was targeted by United as a teenage prospect when he was with French club Valenciennes.

He elected to turn down United and move to Austrian club Salzburg, Upamecano says, after being wowed by Rangnick's precise vision for his career.

At the time, Rangnick was sporting director for Salzburg and Leipzig, with both clubs part of the Red Bull empire, and talking Upamecano into a move proved one of many successes he achieved in that role.

United had tempted the youngster, however, and Upamecano told The Athletic: "I was a young boy. I wanted to sign for them straight away. Manchester United! But then my parents took me aside and said: 'Let's think carefully about this'.

"We thought about it for a long time and then decided that going 'etape par etape' [step by step] was the best option for me. Everything Ralf said came true."

Upamecano was loaned out to Liefering before returning to make an impact with Salzburg while still in his teens, and at the age of 18, in January 2017, he was moved through the ranks to join Leipzig.

Rangnick, who had already enjoyed one spell as head coach of Leipzig, returned for another in 2018, and Upamecano said: "Ralf was the most important coach for me. He's a professor, a scientist of football, and he also cares about everything. He's always there for you with advice on matters football and non-football, every single day."

Before joining Bayern, Upamecano has the chance on Thursday to land a DFB-Pokal title with Leipzig as they head into the final in Berlin against Borussia Dortmund.

Julian Nagelsmann, who succeeded Rangnick in 2019, has been another major influence on the career of Upamecano, who describes the 33-year-old as "an unbelievable manager".

Like Upamecano, Nagelsmann will also move to Bayern at the season's end.

"He really takes you to another level," Upamecano said. "For example, because of Julian, I have improved a lot in terms of opening the game from the defence with precise passes into the midfield, and he told me to use my dribbling abilities in order to create spaces going forward."

That is borne out by data that shows Upamecano has progressed significantly while at Leipzig.

Following his mid-season arrival in 2017, Upamecano had an overall passing accuracy of 78.6 per cent in the Bundesliga, while his accuracy with passes ending in the final third of the field was just 46.2 per cent.

These numbers belong firmly in Upamecano's past, because his precision now shows a marked improvement.

In 2017-18, he stepped up those percentages to 83.7 and 55 in the Bundesliga, while attempting 130 passes into the final third of the pitch.

But in 2019-20, his overall accuracy stood at 89.1 per cent and his accuracy into the final third was a healthy 74 per cent, with Upamecano attempting 232 balls into that attacking area in league games. Each figure put him in the top 10 for Bundesliga defenders who played at least 20 games.

This season has seen a minor step back, but an 88.5 per cent total accuracy and 70 per cent accuracy into the final third continues to reflect well on the French defender, a player United must sorely regret failing to recruit.

Lukas Klostermann admits it will hurt to see Julian Nagelsmann and Dayot Upamecano leave RB Leipzig for Bayern Munich – but he hopes they can depart after one last "beautiful moment".

Leipzig look set to finish second in the Bundesliga, given they lead Wolfsburg by four points with two rounds to go, and trophy glory could come on Thursday when they tackle Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final.

A dress rehearsal in the league on Saturday saw Dortmund snatch a 3-2 victory that boosts their hopes of playing in next season's Champions League, but the cup final showdown in Berlin is a tough game to pick.

Coach Nagelsmann and star centre-back Upamecano are both heading for Bayern at the end of the season, so the game represents their final chance of snatching major silverware with Leipzig, a club that was established only 12 years ago and has come a long way since.

Right-back Klostermann, who will hope to be involved for Germany at Euro 2020, is preparing for reluctant farewells to Nagelsmann and Upamecano.

"Of course I am not that happy about it, that’s for sure," Klostermann told Stats Perform News.

"But I think the coach already told from the beginning that on a long-term perspective it would be his greatest wish to become coach of FC Bayern. But still, I would have wished that it happened a bit later than now. But if it's his big goal and dream, then I cannot be angry or annoyed because of him leaving.

"I think we showed in the past already a couple of times that we can compensate losses, just like how it was with Timo Werner. Some people said that we will fall into a deep hole but I think that was not the case."

Werner was a big-money acquisition by Chelsea last June, but Leipzig have pressed on without the Germany forward.

They will doubtless be strong next season too, but to keep losing major talents, whether from the playing or coaching ranks, cannot be conducive to building a team to challenge for the Bundesliga.

"For the club it would be good on a middle-term or long-term perspective to develop more and more, so the players don't need another club in Europe to play for the elite," Klostermann said. "We should achieve that ourselves, to be part of the elite. I know it's a long way to go, but I think this should be the long-term goal."

The 24-year-old Klostermann scored in the weekend loss to Dortmund, grabbing his first goal of the season, but said Leipzig "only played really well in the second half" of that game. It was tight in terms of the xG (expected goals) count, with Dortmund leading that by 1.7 to 1.5, enjoying the better chances despite Leipzig ending the game 8-4 ahead in terms of shots on target.

 

 

"I think that both teams will take the first game as a basis to analyse in order to change a couple of things in the final," he said. "That's why I think that the first game has an influence on the final. It's not that huge, as the game starts at 0-0 again, but the teams will analyse it and change certain things for the final."

Klostermann said it would "be incredibly important and great to finally win a title", adding: "For all of us it would be an extremely beautiful moment.

"Maybe even a bit more special for players and employees that have been part of the club for a longer time. Five, six, or seven years ago nobody believed that we could achieve that. Therefore, it's even nicer to have this chance to win a title. And for that, we better give everything on Thursday."

It remains to be seen whether Erling Haaland is fit to lead the Dortmund attack, after missing the weekend game with a muscle issue.

In the Bundesliga alone, Haaland has scored 25 goals in 26 games this season, with a shot conversion rate of 28.1 percent – among those to have netted more than five this term, only Max Kruse (37 percent) and Robert Lewandowski (32.5 percent) have put away a greater portion of their chances than the 20-year-old.

Should the Norwegian feature, Klostermann has no doubt about his threat, rating him in the top bracket of strikers.

"When you see how he plays right now, then for sure," Klostermann said.

"I think his numbers are showing that. If he plays, it will not be easier for us. But I am still very convinced that we can play better than we did last Saturday. Even if he plays, I give us good chances to win this final."

Bayern Munich have made a good habit of getting their house in order promptly, and 2021 would seem to be no different.

Having already agreed a deal to sign centre-back Dayot Upamecano from RB Leipzig, the Bundesliga leaders have followed up with an agreement to make Julian Nagelsmann their next head coach.

The Leipzig boss, a boyhood Bayern fan from Bavaria who is still attempting to stop his new club win the title this season, will take over from Hansi Flick on July 1.

A five-year contract and a reported fee of €20million – the most ever paid for a coach – represent a significant investment on Bayern's part and show just how highly they regard Nagelsmann.

The 33-year-old is not exactly taking the wheel of a sinking ship, either: Bayern won six trophies in under two years under Flick and look set to be crowned German champions again.

However, the Bundesliga's youngest ever coach will still face a few crucial tasks upon his appointment that could go a long way towards making or breaking his first term in charge...

Get on with the board

Flick had few serious problems during a remarkably successful spell at the helm, but one notable issue lately has been his relationship with the club's hierarchy.

His decision to announce in public this month that he would be leaving at the end of the season enraged those in charge given they had agreed to keep the news quiet. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, one of Flick's biggest allies, even saw fit to issue a statement criticising the coach.

Flick is said to have got on poorly with sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, with disagreements over transfer targets and a general mistrust turning the relationship volatile. Salihamidzic himself has come under scrutiny, with plenty of fans unhappy to see the coach being the one to depart.

Having landed Bayern's top target through a not-insignificant outlay, Salihamidzic will be almost as desperate to see Nagelsmann succeed as the new man himself. A better working relationship between coach and superiors would be a positive way to start.

Fix the defence

Flick has spent much of this campaign trying to solidify a Bayern defence that has conceded 40 Bundesliga goals this term, already eight more than in the whole of 2019-20.

Frailties at the back were exposed in a DFB-Pokal loss at the hands of second-tier Holstein Kiel and more brutally in the Champions League quarter-final exit to Paris Saint-Germain.

Bayern's defence could look very different next season. Upamecano is arriving from Leipzig but David Alaba is expected to sign for Real Madrid, Jerome Boateng is leaving after a decade in Munich and there is still uncertainty around Niklas Sule's future.

With Bayern said to be pursuing a new right-back, there could well be a new-look backline in front of Manuel Neuer next season – one that Nagelsmann will need to hone quickly in pre-season.

 

Support Lewandowski

As talk of Nagelsmann continued on Monday, Sky Sport reported "several" European clubs had made enquiries over the possibility of signing Robert Lewandowski.

Europe's leading marksman in 2020-21 with 43 goals in all competitions, Lewandowski needs four more in the final three games to equal Gerd Muller's record of 40 in a single Bundesliga season.

Should he match or surpass that milestone, and having finally got his hands on the Champions League last season, the Poland star could be tempted to try his hand elsewhere – and has made clear previously that Bayern may not be his final club.

Signing a replacement would be no easy task, particularly in the coronavirus landscape, so Nagelsmann would be wise to make sure Lewandowski feels Bayern's objectives match his own moving forward.

Ignore the noise

For a coach, learning to deal with critics is part of the territory at Bayern Munich, more so than at any club in Germany.

With famous ex-players in positions of power at the Allianz Arena and others prominent figures in the media – former Germany captain Lothar Matthaus chief among them – Bayern coaches will never be far from an opinion or two, whether successful or not (just ask Pep Guardiola).

Matthaus was even rebuked by former team-mate Stefan Effenberg this month for encouraging talk of Nagelsmann replacing Flick, suggesting such comments simply placed further pressure on coaches "that is no longer okay".

Flick had actually handled the persistent Bayern background noise rather well, and Nagelsmann will need to do likewise: the scrutiny on his performance as the world's most expensive coach – at such a young age – will be intense.

 

Blood the youngsters

Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff specifically praised Nagelsmann for improving individuals and strengthening the collective in his time at the club.

The progress of players such as Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, Dominik Szoboszlai and captain Marcel Sabitzer highlights the positive impact Nagelsmann's methods can have on young talent.

He will be under pressure to produce similar results at Bayern. Alphonso Davies is already an elite left-back at 20, Jamal Musiala is established in the senior squad at 18 and there are high hopes for young centre-back Tanguy Nianzou.

Given Bayern's pedigree for developing global stars, Nagelsmann will be under pressure to keep the production line going at full speed.

News of Robert Lewandowski being ruled out for a month on Tuesday left many feeling the pendulum might have swung in RB Leipzig's favour in the Bundesliga title race.

Enjoying another phenomenal season, the Poland striker has been irresistible for reigning champions Bayern and had come to within touching distance of history.

With 35 league goals in just 25 matches, Lewandowski was just five strikes from equalling Gerd Muller's all-time single-season record – no one has matched that haul since the Bayern and West Germany great achieved it in 1971-72.

Although already seemingly certain to be regarded as a Bundesliga icon long after he hangs up his boots, eclipsing such a feat while well into his thirties would have surely elevated his legend to a whole new level in German football history.

Who knows, he may yet reach it this term. Assuming he is out for exactly four weeks, the time period Bayern themselves specified, netting another six in Bayern's final three league games is by no means beyond Lewandowski given the rate he had been scoring at.

But without suffering his knee injury against Andorra, he would have had eight league matches to reach that figure, while his absence will also surely impact on the collective for Bayern.

Hansi Flick's men are top but only have a four-point cushion ahead of RB Leipzig, whom they will hosted by on Saturday in a game that could have decisive ramifications on the title race.

But Leipzig cannot fall into the trap of taking the absence of Lewandowski – whose xG overperformance of 8.8 for non-penalty goals (29 scored, 20.2 xG) is unmatched across Europe's top five leagues – for granted.

 

"Basically, Bayern still has a lot of good players even if Robert Lewandowski will be missing the game," Leipzig sporting director Markus Krosche told Stats Perform News. "They can replace him.

"Of course, he is a very important player for them after having scored 35 goals, but the squad is good enough to replace him. That's still not our focus.

"We have to focus on ourselves and what happens on the pitch because that's what counts for us. If we push ourselves to the limit, then we have a great possibility to beat them. It doesn't matter if they play with or without Lewandowski."

Victory for Bayern in Leipzig will see them take a huge step towards a ninth successive Bundesliga title and the omens aren't great for Julian Nagelsmann's side, having won just once in 11 competitive meetings with Bayern.

But Die Roten Bullen head into the weekend unbeaten in eight league games, a run that's seen them amass 22 from a possible 24 points and subsequently claw themselves back to within just a few points of Bayern.

"I am pretty proud," Krosche replied when asked how if felt to be Bayern's main rival in 2020-21. "But not only because we are second in the league and their closest rival, but also the way we have been playing in the last few months makes me proud.

"The boys did a great job and have developed well. The way we play is one of the best styles in the Bundesliga, and it is because of our playing style that we could achieve these results. I am proud about the development of the boys.

"We need to keep doing the same things just like in the last few weeks and months. We need to show this football on the pitch. Of course, we need to push ourselves to the limit against Bayern, but we have a lot of self-confidence.

"Our playing style is really good and the boys are convinced of our idea of how to play. So, we'll try to reach our maximum and then we have a good chance to beat them."

 

Stopping Bayern as an attacking threat will be half the battle on Saturday, as Die Roten are averaging three goals every game in the Bundesliga and haven't fired blanks in any of their previous 61 matches across all competitions, equalling a club record. Coincidentally, Leipzig were the last team to shut them out in February last year.

Despite such a remarkable run, Bayern have not been immune to criticism and the fact they aren't yet cruising at the top has led to suggestions of the champions being a shadow of their former selves, and losing Lewandowski for a month won't help.

But Krosche is adamant talk of a Bayern with "weaknesses" has been over the top, instead surmising the chasing pack has improved, with Leipzig boasting the best defence in the league (21 conceded). He said: "Bayern have not played a bad season. People say that they have some weaknesses this season but that's not the case.

"I think it's basically the case that we are doing very well. We have a very good balance between offence and defence. That's what makes us strong this season, and that's the reason why we are so close to Bayern right now.

 

"What will be decisive on Saturday is how we can find the balance. This is our plan and we'll try to do it. I don't want to reduce it to 'Bayern are having weaknesses' but rather say that we are consistent this year and that we have a good opportunity to move even closer when we beat them."

Beyond the potential impact on the title race, Saturday will be a particularly intriguing contest for Dayot Upamecano, who has already agreed to join Bayern at the end of the season. Krosche hopes he can succeed in Munich but was non-committal on projecting the Frenchman's future at the Allianz Arena.

"Upa is a player that has everything you need. He is a young guy who already has a lot of international experience," he continued. "As I said, he's got everything. He is an important player for us. He has a bright future ahead.

"I don't know what will happen at Bayern next season. He has a lot of potential for further development, but we will see. We are happy that he is still with us and we hope that we can be successful this season with him. Then we will see how he performs at Bayern."

One thing's for certain, Upamecano will be relieved to know the next time he has to come up against Lewandowski will only be a training session.

Dayot Upamecano will be a Bayern Munich player in 2021-22, meaning Liverpool and Chelsea must go back to the drawing board.

The Premier League rivals had each been linked with a move for the RB Leipzig centre-back as they look to add to their options at heart of defence.

Now they each must look to different targets come the end of the season, with injuries and poor play at the back having derailed the Reds' hopes of winning a second successive league title.

But which centre-backs could be part of Liverpool and Chelsea's plans to pose a more serious challenge to Manchester City next season?

Here we look at four players who could be playing their football at Liverpool or Stamford Bridge next season.

Bremer

The Torino defender is reported to be Liverpool's top close-season target after an impressive season in Serie A.

His 75 clearances are the second-most in the Italian top flight among defenders, while Bremer has also excelled at making recoveries.

Indeed, he has tallied 114, putting him 11th among defenders to have played at least 10 league games. Only four defenders have won more aerial duels than Bremer's 47.

David Alaba

Chelsea have been linked with the man Upamecano is seemingly set to replace, though Alaba’s wage structure may reportedly be a sticking point for the Blues.

Alaba's versatility to play across the back four and in midfield would certainly appeal to Chelsea and former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Austria international has consistently demonstrated his prowess in attack as well as at the back.

He has created at least 17 chances in every season since 2010-11 and has crafted 10 in 19 league appearances this season.

Ibrahima Konate

Could Leipzig be raided again? Both Chelsea and Liverpool have been linked with Konate, the France Under-21 international signed from Sochaux in 2017.

Injuries have been a problem for Konate, who has played only 15 league games since the start of last season.

However, when he has played extensively, he has shown his quality. 

Konate featured 28 times in the Bundesliga in 2018-19 and was sixth in the league with 100 aerial duels won, contributing to 12 clean sheets, a tally only bettered by two players – his Leipzig team-mates Marcel Halstenberg (15) and Willi Orban (13).

Jules Kounde

Liverpool are thought to be keen on Kounde, but they will likely face competition from across Europe for the Sevilla defender's services.

Kounde has emerged as one of the finest young defenders in European football is again excelling this season.

With 106 recoveries in 2020-21, Kounde – who has also previously been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City – has proven a reliable presence in the heart of defence, while he can also start attacks.

His 136 successful passes into the final third are more than Barca's Clement Lenglet (132) and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (128).

Ramos (84.77) and Lenglet (80.49) have a higher accuracy percentage on those passes than Kounde's 76.84, but at just 22 he has the time and the talent to develop into one of the world's top centre-backs.

Hansi Flick welcomed the signing of Dayot Upamecano but said "our task is to perform right now" as Bayern Munich prepare to return to Bundesliga action against Arminia Bielefeld.

On Sunday, Bayern announced that they have triggered a €42.5million release clause to land defender Upamecano from domestic rivals RB Leipzig.

The in-demand France international will join the newly-crowned FIFA Club World Cup champions on July 1 after agreeing terms on a five-year deal.

Flick is delighted to have beaten off competition to secure the services of the 22-year-old centre-back, who was linked with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool

The Bayern head coach's focus for now is ensuring Bayern extend a seven-match winning streak by beating Bielefeld at Allianz Arena on Monday, when a victory would put the leaders seven points clear of Leipzig.

Flick said: "I'm pleased we've managed to sign Dayot. But our task is to perform right now, and the same goes for Dayot at Leipzig. But that's how I've got to know him."

Leipzig chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff expressed his disappointment that Upamecano will be departing, but knew his exit was inevitable.

He told the club's official website: "Of course, we would have liked to keep Dayot Upamecano at RB Leipzig.

"However, Dayot indicated to us very fairly and in good time that he would like a new challenge this summer and take the next step. The talks with Dayot and his agent as well as with FC Bayern were transparent and constructive at all times.

"It was well-known that Dayot's contract contained a buy-out clause. Our task was therefore to prepare for the situation that he would one day leave us, and we've done our homework in that regard.

"Dayot has shown outstanding development during his time in Leipzig, which is exemplary for our philosophy of finding young talents and consistently bringing them to the top level.

"Dayot has been and remains an important factor in our success and FC Bayern can look forward to an outstanding footballer and great person. We are now looking to the tasks ahead and want to give Liverpool a great fight on Tuesday in the Champions League last 16."

Flick expects to be without Leon Goretzka (calf) when the champions face Bielefeld, while Thomas Muller and Javi Martinez will be monitored.

Page 1 of 3
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.