'It doesn't get much bigger than this in the Bundesliga'
The Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen is one of the best stadiums in the world, and with Bayern Munich heading there to face Schalke this weekend, we’re set for a fantastic game. From an English perspective you could compare it to Manchester United against Tottenham – a dominant club against one on the up.
It doesn’t get much bigger than this in the Bundesliga.
Historically, Schalke are a working man’s club and have probably the best, most passionate support in Germany alongside Dortmund. They have both suffered for decades on the pitch up until recently, but traditionally their support has remained strong.
Schalke are an attractive draw in German football, and it’s likely that soon they’ll be the third-biggest club in the Bundesliga. Clubs like Stuttgart, Hamburg and Werder Bremen have fallen off the radar a little bit. Even a club like Leverkusen, for example, has limitations in terms of its history and fan base.
Thankfully the Königsblauen have taken full advantage of the Bundesliga’s fourth Champions League spot. The 3-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in midweek was absolutely crucial because the club needs income to invest like they did with €16m Kevin-Prince Boateng – a lot of money in German conditions.
Bayern, meanwhile, have Pep Guardiola in charge, and are in transition a little bit. Changes have, and will be made. Guardiola needs time, and the challenge now is how the players adapt to him, how they buy into his philosophy and how they keep their hunger after winning five titles in 18 months.
Here the champions go in as favourites because, offensively, they are stronger. The goals come from everywhere, especially away from home where they have a little more space.
A lot rests on how Schalke cope with the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery out wide, and Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Muller up front. Schalke’s back four and midfield will have to be extremely good, playing 4-2-3-1 with Boateng slightly advanced.
The former Portsmouth midfielder is crucial for Schalke. When he went to AC Milan he re-started his career and looked like the more mature player everybody wanted him to be during his early years in Germany. He was consistent, a goal threat and hugely influential in the Champions League too.
Bayern must ensure they are as good as last year defensively – they conceded just seven goals on the road all season. At the moment Javi Martinez’s hugely impressive performances are standing them in good stead to make sure that happens. Last season they played with two holding midfielders, but this year they are using just the one.
You can never have enough good players – for Guardiola it’s just a case of keeping them all happy. He did that at Barcelona because he is a very experienced, world-class coach who knows exactly what he is doing.
If you asked me for a prediction I’d say 2-1 to Bayern. You could pick any number of players to score, but I fancy Robben and Toni Kroos for Guardiola’s side, with Julian Draxler replying for the hosts.
Watch BT Sport’s exclusively live coverage of Schalke v Bayern Munich on BT Sport 1 from 5.30pm on Saturday 21 September. Each matchweek at 6.45pm on BT Sport 1, Sunday Night Football covers the game across the continent.