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Defensive woes blight Kovac as Bayern host minnows Union

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Bayern Munich’s Croatian head coach Niko Kovac addresses a press conference in Athens on October 21, 2019, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Group B football match against Olympiakos FC at the Karaiskaki Stadium. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

Pressure is mounting on head coach Niko Kovac as injury-hit Bayern Munich look to beat minnows Union Berlin Saturday with just two points separating the top nine Bundesliga teams.

Third-placed Bayern are only a point behind leaders Borussia Moenchengladbach, having been knocked off the top three weeks ago when Hoffenheim grabbed a shock 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena.

Union Berlin, in 14th place, have already beaten top-six clubs Dortmund and Freiburg in their first Bundesliga season and hope to deny Bayern a first win in three league games.

Club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge branded Bayern “careless” in Tuesday’s 3-2 Champions League win at Olympiakos and called on the team to beat Union at home to “meet the standard FC Bayern has set” by regaining first place in the league.

However, a worry for Kovac is Bayern’s trend of conceding exactly two goals in each of their last five games, on top of their defensive woes with first-choice centre-backs Niklas Suele and Lucas Hernandez out long term.

Suele could miss the next six months after tearing his cruciate ligament in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Augsburg, while Hernandez underwent surgery on Thursday for ankle ligaments torn in Greece.

Sport Bild is tipping Ralf Rangnick, sports director at rivals RB Leipzig, to step in if Kovac is fired.

The magazine claims time is running out for Kovac, 48, as Uli Hoeness, his chief supporter among the club’s senior figures, stands down as club president next month.

However, Union’s head coach Urs Fischer refuses to perceive star-studded Bayern as vulnerable.

“We can try to force mistakes from them and if you make it easy for them, you are going to have problems,” said the Swiss.

With a phenomenal 18 goals in 13 games, Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski can claim a new Bundesliga record of scoring in each of the first nine league games if he hits the net.

“It’s not just about Lewandowski,” added Fischer.

“Obviously he’s a top striker, on one hand, you have to be brave in one-on-one challenges with him, but it’s also a team effort to defend.”

Kovac is not the only Bundesliga coach with reason to feel nervous as Jose Mourinho has been linked to Lucien Favre’s position as head coach of Borussia Dortmund.

Dortmund are a point behind ‘Gladbach in fourth before Saturday’s Ruhr derby against seventh-placed Schalke.

“The hairs on the back of my neck go up when I talk about it,” admitted Schalke coach David Wagner before his first derby.

“I have to make sure we all keep our feet on the ground.”

One to watch: JonJoe Kenny
Jadon Sancho, 19, scored Dortmund’s winner in the last Ruhr Derby in Gelsenkirchen, but fellow Englishman Jonjoe Kenny, 22, has made Schalke’s right-back berth his own this season, on loan from Everton, and will be looking to dull Dortmund’s attack.

Kenny, whose role model is Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning captain Philipp Lahm, scored his first Bundesliga goal in a 3-0 win over Hertha in August and shone in last month’s shock 3-1 win at RB Leipzig.

Also worth watching is Schalke’s playmaker Amine Harit, the Bundesliga Player of the Month in September who has netted four goals this season and was the catalyst when the Royal Blues came from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 at Dortmund in November 2017.

Key facts
35 – the number of kilometres (21.75 miles) separating Ruhr rivals Schalke from Dortmund.

36 – millions in euros ($40 million) the Union squad is worth (according to transfermarkt.de) compared to the 882.65 million euros for the Bayern squad.

12 – the number of goals Lewandowski has scored in eight Bundesliga games in 2019/20.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Mainz 05 v Cologne (1830)

Saturday

Bayern Munich v Union Berlin, Hertha Berlin v Hoffenheim, Freiburg v RB Leipzig, Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund, Paderborn v Fortuna Duesseldorf (all 1330), Bayer Leverkusen v Werder Bremen (1630)

Sunday

VfL Wolfsburg v Augsburg (1430), Borussia Moenchengladbach v Eintracht Frankfurt (1700)


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