The 179th Oktoberfest begins in Munich at midday on Saturday, when Mayor Christian Ude re-enacts the ancient tradition and taps the first barrel, kicking off the world’s biggest outdoor festival. The Bayern stars will miss all of that, as Jupp Heynckes and his men are totally focused on Schalke 04 this Saturday (Live in English from 3.30 pm CET on FCB.tv Web Radio). The fourth Bundesliga fixture of the season will, if Munich have their way, produce a fourth straight victory.
However, it will be far from easy. “It'll be the toughest task we've undertaken so far," said Heynckes. The Royal Blues have made a good start to the season of their own, with a 2-1 Champions League victory away to Olympiakos Piraeus in midweek, and seven from a possible nine points in the league. “It's a clash between equals. Taking all three points will be very difficult," acknowledged former Schalke number one Manuel Neuer.
For all that, Bayern aim to maintain their perfect record in Gelsenkirchen. “We're nicely in the groove, as they say," continued Heynckes, “I'm confident we'll keep up the good work on Saturday." In the Bundesliga, FCB have registered clear-cut victories over Greuther Fürth (3-0), VfB Stuttgart (6-1) and Mainz (3-1), and made the desired start in the Champions League last Wednesday with a 2-1 win against powerful Spaniards Valencia. “We were authoritative and imposed ourselves on the game against Valencia. We want to do it again on Saturday," the head coach said.
Heynckes recalled last season's trip to the Ruhr Valley to face Schalke, almost exactly a year ago on 18 September, when Munich comfortably won 2-0. The coach is expecting a much meatier scrap this time: “I'm impressed with Schalke at the moment, they're a different team compared to the last two seasons. There's lots of harmony in the team and great character. They're playing settled and confident football, and they show plenty of courage."
All that is reflected in the statements made by the Schalke stars in the build-up to the showdown. “We're yearning for victory over Bayern and we really believe in ourselves," said captain Benedikt Höwedes. His sentiments were echoed by midfielder Lewis Holtby, who is “convinced we can beat Bayern." Coach Huub Stevens urged his men “to play with bravery and belief. We mustn't show fear against Bayern." However, the home side may be without Jermaine Jones and top striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, both struggling with injuries picked up in midweek. “It'll be a close run thing," Stevens reported, although the pair completed Friday’s final pre-match training session “without problems,” the club said in a statement.
Ribéry a doubt
Munich have an injury doubt of their own, as Franck Ribéry is still not completely recovered from the strain which caused him to be substituted at half-time against Valencia as a precaution. Heynckes said a decision over Ribéry's fitness would be left until the day of the match. Otherwise, Rafinha returns to squad duty for the first time this season after a lay-off with damaged ligaments.
As always, the final line-up will only be announced approximately an hour before kick-off. It is highly likely that Heynckes will continue his recent policy of rotation. “My experience tells me that if we do it now, we'll end up with the strength and form we need to play successful football in February, March, April and May," the veteran boss stated.