BERLIN - High-flying Bayern Munich has a score to settle against Borussia Moenchengladbach on Friday, when one of the Bundesliga's oldest rivalries kicks off the last round of games before the winter break.
Moenchengladbach was one of only two teams — along with defending champion Borussia Dortmund — to claim six points against Bayern last season, and arrives hopeful of a third consecutive victory over its old foe after six straight games unbeaten in all competitions.
"Why not? Like nearly every team against Bayern, we're outsiders. But so were we last season too and we could win both league games," Moenchengladbach defender Martin Stranzl told Kicker magazine. "If we deliver a top performance and Bayern buckle a bit, there's something in it."
Bayern is in outstanding form — the fastest team in 50 years of the Bundesliga to claim the unofficial "autumn champion" title — with 13 wins from 16 games, just one defeat, 43 goals scored and six conceded, while Moenchengladbach has only two wins from 44 attempts in Munich.
"We can't only defend, we have to do something up front too, otherwise it's only a matter of time before we concede," Moenchengladbach coach Lucien Favre said.
Bayern is already 11 points ahead of second-placed Bayer Leverkusen, which hosts Hamburger SV on Saturday, and 14 ahead of Dortmund, which visits Hoffenheim on Sunday.
Werder Bremen hosts Nuremberg in Sunday's other game.
Schalke needs to arrest its alarming dip in form when Freiburg visits on Saturday, to ease the pressure on Dutch coach Huub Stevens.
Schalke was once Bayern's closest challenger but has slipped to fifth following five games without a win.
Also on Saturday, fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt visits resurgent Wolfsburg, Mainz hosts Stuttgart, bottom sides Greuther Fuerth and Augsburg meet, and Fortuna Duesseldorf plays Hannover.
Moenchengladbach appears to have found some stability after a shaky start to the season, not least due to the outstanding form of Juan Arango.
The Venezuela captain has five goals, including a spectacular 45-meter lob from the sideline against Mainz last weekend, and set up five more to help compensate for the loss of Marco Reus to Dortmund in the off-season.
The loss of defender Dante has also hit Favre's side hard, with 25 goals conceded already, compared to just four at the same stage last year.
Dante will line up for Bayern against his former side on Friday.
"It's definitely a special game for me. My time at 'Gladbach opened the door to Bayern in the first place," said the Brazilian.
Dante has played every minute of Bundesliga action so far, helping Bayern to keep 11 clean sheets.
"When Dante is healthy, when he's fit, then he plays," said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, who normally rotates his players further up the pitch.
The 67-year-old Heynckes will provide another familiar face for the visitors.
Heynckes helped Moenchengladbach secure promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965, with 23 goals in 25 games, before going on to score a club record 195 goals in 283 league games for his hometown side.
Moenchengladbach enjoyed its golden period in the 1970s, winning three titles in a row from 1975-77 to match Bayern's earlier achievement, and Heynckes contributed hugely to that success, winning four titles in all and becoming the league's topscorer in 1974 and '75, at a time when the prolific Gerd Mueller was in action for Bayern.
Heynckes later coached Moenchengladbach, for 291 games, but was unable to lead the side to glory as the balance of power swung toward Munich.
Indeed, Heynckes' only Bundesliga titles as a coach to date are from his first stint at Bayern, in 1989 and '90.
He is now in his third, and eager to claim more honour in what could be his swansong before retirement.
"I'm very happy with all the players," Heynckes said. "How we're training, that's a doozy, it has quality. The guys are fit and they're bringing that out on the pitch. Everyone wants success. It's fun."
Arjen Robben is likely to miss the game as the Dutchman continues his recovery from a muscle tear, while record signing Javi Martinez is doubtful due to a cold and after spraining his knee in a challenge from teammate Jerome Boateng on Tuesday.
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