BERLIN, Germany, Feb 22 – Niko Kovac wants his Bayern Munich side to show the same defensive discipline that saw them shut out Liverpool in the Bundesliga title race as they set their sights on stuttering leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Bayern conceded sloppy goals — including a Bundesliga record fastest own goal after just 13 seconds — in last Friday’s 3-2 win at Augsburg, which put the reigning champions three points behind Dortmund thanks to them drawing 0-0 at Nuremberg on Monday night.
Kovac’s team followed that up with a far more disciplined goalless draw at Anfield that has put them in a decent position against Liverpool ahead of the deciding leg of their last-16 Champions League tie at the Allianz Arena on March 12.
“I expect the same concentration and absolute discipline in defence,” he said on Thursday ahead of their home league clash with Hertha Berlin Saturday.
Hertha beat second-placed Bayern in the capital 2-0 in September, the first of the four defeats this season.
“The Bundesliga is important, but a few players rate the Champions League higher and put more into it,” he added.
A win in Munich would put Bayern level on points with Dortmund for at least 24 hours before Dortmund play on Sunday at home to Bayer Leverkusen — who have surged up to fifth under new coach Peter Bosz — while a seven-goal swing in Bayern’s favour over both fixtures could put the Bavarians top on goal difference.
Croat Kovac wants to make it “hard to score goals against Bayern Munich — it’s all in the mind” after too many loose defensive displays.
Centre-back Mats Hummels is doubtful to face Hertha with a cold and set to be replaced by Jerome Boateng, who missed the draw at Liverpool with an upset stomach.
Midfielder Leon Goretzka could also return after shaking off an Achilles tendon knock.
– Bosz back to haunt Dortmund –
Dortmund desperately need a win as what was once a nine-point lead has been slashed after drawing their last three league matches, while Bayern have bounced back from a rocky November by winning nine of their last 10.
Dortmund are also focused on ridding themselves of defensive frailties after leaking 10 goals in their last five games.
Director of sport Michael Zorc has had to defend coach Lucien Favre after poor recent results and says lady luck is simply not smiling on his team.
“We made mistakes in the first half of the season too, the difference now is that we are being punished,” said Zorc.
“We’re missing that bit of luck, but we won’t change everything.”
Dortmund are set to welcome back Marco Reus, whose influence has been badly missed since he picked up a thigh injury in the German Cup defeat by Werder Bremen earlier this month, and key defender Manuel Akanji, sidelined since December with a hip injury.
The timing could not be better against a Leverkusen team challenging for a Champions League place.
Thirteen goals in four consecutive Bundesliga wins, including a shock 3-1 victory over Bayern, has hauled Leverkusen up into fifth.
Their head coach Bosz, who was sacked by Dortmund in December 2017 after barely half a year in charge, has turned Leverkusen’s fortunes around since replacing Heiko Herrlich late last year.
He has given Germany starlets Julian Brandt, 22, and Kai Havertz, 19, more freedom and the pair have obliged with six goals and three assists in the last four games.
They were deadly as Brandt scored twice and set up two more, including one for Havertz, in the 5-1 battering of Mainz a fortnight ago.
Fixtures (all times 5:30pm unless stated)
Werder Bremen v Stuttgart (10:30pm)
Borussia Moenchengladbach v Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin, Freiburg v Augsburg, Mainz v Schalke 04, Fortuna Duesseldorf v Nuremberg (8:30pm)
Hanover 96 v Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen (8pm)
RB Leipzig v Hoffenheim (10:30pm)