Bayern Munich trio set to return ahead of key game in title race at Leverkusen
MUNICH (AP) — Bayern Munich is set to welcome back three players to its squad to play at title rival Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on Saturday, but goalkeeper Manuel Neuer remains an injury doubt.
Bayern is two points behind league leader Leverkusen, which is unbeaten in 30 games in all competitions this season.
This game is “the moment to put the cards on the table” in the title race, Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel said Friday, adding that he expects Leverkusen will get support from “neutral fans” across Germany who are keen to see Bayern's 11-year run of league titles come to an end.
Tuchel said he plans to have central defender Kim Min-jae back after he reached the Asian Cup semifinals with South Korea, and that defender Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Joshua Kimmich are expected to be in the squad after recovering from injuries.
Upamecano has been out with a hamstring injury and Kimmich with shoulder problems since both were hurt in Bayern's 1-0 win over Union Berlin on Jan. 24. Tuchel recalled how Upamecano returned from another injury last year and scored the opening goal in a statement win over Borussia Dortmund.
Tuchel said a decision would be taken on Neuer's fitness after training Friday after the goalkeeper missed training earlier this week with an unspecified problem. Backup Sven Ullreich would step in if Neuer can't play, Tuchel added.
Forwards Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry remain out with injury as does left back Alphonso Davies, who strained a knee ligament in last week's 3-1 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso said it was “too early” for Argentina midfielder Exequiel Palacios to return from a muscle injury which has caused him to miss the last three games.
Alonso's team has won three of its last five games in all competitions on 90th-minute or stoppage-time goals, something he said was testament to Leverkusen's mental resilience.
“I remember other situations where we were more fragile last year, and in the bad moments we were falling apart. We are able to keep believing in ourselves, believing in how we want to play and keep doing the right things," he said.
"It’s one of the main topics and the main strengths that we are building this year. Tomorrow is going to be a big case that, when Bayern are pushing, we are able to defend ourselves, knowing how we want to play and knowing what we have prepared. That mentality that we have had, it’s important for tomorrow and for the rest of the season.”
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