Wednesday, November 6, 2013

UFC Fight Night 31 Fight for the Troops 3

UFC Fight Night 31 Fight for the Troops 3 November6/2013
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Tim Kennedy vs. Rafael Natal
Liz Carmouche vs. Alexis Davis    
Ronny Markes vs. Yoel Romero    
Jorge Masvidal vs. Rustam Khabilov    
Colton Smith vs. Michael Chiesa
James Krause vs. Bobby Green    
George Roop vs. Francisco Rivera
Dennis Bermudez vs. Steven Siler
Germaine de Randamie vs. Amanda Nunes    
Chris Camozzi vs. Lorenz Larkin
Yves Edwards vs. Yancy Medeiros
Neil Magny vs. Seth Baczynski    
Derek Brunson vs. Brian Houston

This Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event goes out to those good ole' boys fighting for liberty.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's "Fight for Troops" series continues this Wednesday night (Nov. 2, 2013) as UFC hits Fort Campbell, Kentucky, airing live on Spike TV. Duking it out in the main event are active Army Ranger Tim Kennedy, fresh off a win over Roger Gracie, and Rafael Natal, who has won five of his last six bouts inside the Octagon.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout Alexis Davis will take on ground-and-pound machine Liz Carmouche, while Cuban wrestling Olympian Yoel Romero looks to snap the seven-fight win streak of Ronny Markes.

That's just the top of an extensive mid-week fight card.

Here we go:

155 lbs.: Bobby Green vs. James Krause

Bobby Green (20-5) entered UFC on a four-fight win streak and definitely looked the part against Jacob Volkmann, outlasting the powerful wrestler to earn "Submission of the Night" with just 35 seconds left in the fight. He was set to face another of the division’s grinders, Danny Castillo, at UFC on Fox 8 before injury delayed his sophomore appearance.

Green, who has 16 stoppages to his name, will give up four inches of height to James Krause (2-4).

Unnecessarily egotistical nickname notwithstanding, Krause bounced back from a knockout loss in the elimination rounds of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) quite impressively, reeling off four consecutive wins to earn a spot in UFC. He took full advantage of his short-notice debut, submitting Sam Stout in the waning seconds of their bout after largely outclassing the UFC vet.

He has now won eight consecutive fights, six of them by stoppage.

Honestly, I’m kind of stumped here because this is a very evenly-matched contest between two very solid fighters. After careful deliberation that may or may not have involved pitting Level 9 CPU Wario and Luigi against one another in Super Smash Bros.

Brawl, I’m leaning toward Krause.

The name of the game here is range -- Krause’s striking is offbeat, but very effective at maximizing his considerable length. Green will have to consistently press forward and take advantage of every opportunity Krause gives him to lay hands on him.

The area that does have me worried is the ground game. Krause was grounded by Stout a little too easily for my taste. Still, Krause should be able to use his reach to rack up the strikes, offsetting the time he spends on his back enough to earn the nod on the judges' cards.

Prediction: Krause via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: George Roop vs. Francisco Rivera

After dropping three of four contests at Featherweight, the 6’1" George Roop (14-9-1) elected to give 135 pounds another try, and so far, it seems to be the right choice. After defeating Reuben Duran via decision in a humdrum affair, Roop survived a hard knockdown late in the first to finish former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Brian Bowles a little less than two minutes into round two.

He is currently on his first multi-fight win streak since 2008, going even (6-6-1) in that span.

Edwin Figueroa gave him a rough go early on, but it was Francisco Rivera (9-2) who ultimately came out on top in their UFC 156 match up of power-punchers, beating him down late in the second stanza. The victory marked Rivera’s sixth knockout win, seventh if you count his overturned finish of Roland Delorme in 2012.

As is tradition for opponents of Roop, Rivera will enter the cage at a sizeable height disadvantage, standing five inches shorter.

I’m always annoyed when Roop shows up in my inbox because I seem physically incapable of picking his fights correctly. Please keep that in mind as I describe the reason Rivera is going to blow his doors off.

Part of the reason he’s so hard to predict is that Roop is inconsistent with how well he uses his height. Cub Swanson and Brian Bowles were both able to buckle him with big right hands, but Roop used range well against Chan Sung Jung and Hatsu Hioki. The one thing that is consistent about him, though, is that his jaw is iffy, which is an incredibly poor attribute to have against Rivera.

Simply put, "Cisco" is a terrifically powerful puncher, one of the strongest at that weight. Should he connect with Roop’s jaw, I have zero doubt that the fight will end then and there. If Roop fights to the utmost of his abilities, I could conceivably see him taking advantage of his superior length, but that’s not something to put money on.

Roop lands some solid long-range kicks early before Rivera slips inside and turns his lights out.

Prediction: Rivera via first-round knockout

145 lbs.: Dennis Bermudez vs. Steven Siler

It’s been quite an eventful year for Dennis Bermudez (11-3). He kicked off the race for "Fight of the Year" way back in February alongside Matt Grice, surviving a rough pair of opening rounds to batter the very game "Wolverine" in the third for a split decision win. Against Max Holloway in May, "The Menace" took a flush spinning back kick to the face, but managed to pull out a controversial decision victory.

Now riding a four-fight win streak since his submission loss to Diego Brandao at TUF 14 Finale, Bermudez gives up five inches of height to his former TUF teammate.

Ten losses may seem like a lot, but Steven Siler (23-10) has a deceiving record. He started his career 5-7 before winning 18 of his last 21 appearances. His last time out was perhaps his most impressive yet, an impressive 50-second knockout of one-time 145-pound kingpin Mike Brown.

Siler has quietly gone 5-1 in UFC, putting him on the brink of contendership.

I’m not going to lie and say Bermudez looked great in his last two bouts -- he was very impressive in the third round, but there’s a very good argument that he lost the previous two in both cases. Further, he gets dropped once per fight with clockwork regularity, a surefire way to get out of the judges’ graces.

He is, however, a very solid wrestler, an area which has thus far been Siler’s premiere weakness. Darren Elkins controlled him fairly easily for all three rounds, while Kurt Holobaugh managed to take a round off him via top control. Siler is solid defensively on his back, but not the kind of offensive threat that can make Bermudez think twice about shooting.

Despite not being a big puncher, Siler’s going to wind up dropping Bermudez in the first round. That’s going to be all the success he gets; however, as Bermudez asserts his wrestling dominance for 29-28s across the board.

Prediction: Bermudez via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Amanda Nunes vs. Germaine de Randamie

Sometimes, a nickname sticks that’s just perfect. And you can’t describe Amanda Nunes (8-3) much better than "Lioness of the Ring." The Strikeforce and Invicta veteran has ended all of her wins inside two rounds, seven by knockout, including the only women to defeat Germaine de Randamie in Vanessa Porto and Julia Budd.

Nunes, at 5’7," stands four inches shorter than "The Iron Lady."

Germaine de Randamie (4-2) entered her UFC debut with less than one-fifth her opponent’s experience, but left with the win, outstriking and shutting down the takedowns of Julie Kedzie for a unanimous decision. She had previously picked up her second Strikeforce victory at the expense of former JEWELS champion Hiroko Yamanaka, improving her record on the promotion to 2-1.

She is one of the most decorated strikers in women's MMA history, owning a kickboxing record of 37-0 and multiple Muay Thai world championships.

Though it has gotten very little attention, this fight has massive potential. It’s an excellent clash between tremendous power and crisp technique. Nunes is one of the biggest punchers in women’s MMA, while de Randamie’s striking pedigree is unmatched in the division.

In my opinion, power is going to come out on top.

In addition to lethal punches, Nunes is physically strong enough to impose her wrestling game, an area in which de Randamie is vulnerable. In addition, Amanda is much more experienced, having faced and beaten some excellent competition.

With her length and Muay Thai experience, de Randamie has the advantage at long range and in the clinch, but I believe Nunes’ aggression and strength will let her do damage from mid-range and close in on a takedown when necessary, eventually finishing de Randamie either by ground-and-pound or a big shot standing.

Prediction: Nunes via first-round technical knockout

It may lack a big name, but pretty much every fight on this card's got something going for it. There are worse ways to spend your Wednesday evenings.

Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal

The Gunners sit top on goal difference ahead of Dortmund and Napoli, and defeat would likely see them drop to third with two matches remaining.

Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Dortmund at the Emirates a fortnight ago, which blew Group F wide open after the Gunners had won their opening two games.

The Premier League leaders are performing wonderfully well domestically and sit five points clear, but Arsene Wenger knows they will need to show some of that form in the Ruhr Valley if they want to take anything from Dortmund.

Arsenal have travelled to the Westfalenstadion on two previous occasions but have never won, coming away with a loss and a draw.

Like Arsenal, Dortmund are going very well on the home front and they currently sit in second, just one point off leaders Bayern Munich and have won their last four games in succession.

With two matches played, it appeared that Arsenal, on six points, were going to cruise through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

However, the 2-1 defeat last time out to Borussia Dortmund has muddied the water somewhat. The Gunners are now locked on the same points as Dortmund and Italian outfit Napoli.

On Wednesday, Arsene Wenger's side will travel to Germany for the return match with Dortmund. The Yellows have played eight games at home this term, winning all of them. What's more, they won all six of their home matches in the competition last term.

Injuries have ruled both Sebastian Kehl and Ilkay Gundogan out of the clash, while full-back Lukasz Piszczek will sit out the contest following summer surgery to fix hip and groin problems.

Meanwhile, Mathieu Flamini will be absent for Arsenal because of a groin complaint. There is also a doubt over the availability of both Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs because of injury.

The two sides have met in Germany on two previous occasions, with Dortmund winning back in 2002 thanks to two goals from now Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky. The other encounter, in 2011, ended in a 1-1 draw.

Recent form

Dortmund: WLWWWW

Arsenal: DWLWLW

Possible starting lineups

Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Grosskreutz, Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer; Sahin, Blaszczykowski, Bender; Mkhitaryan, Reus; Lewandowski

Arsenal: Szczesny; Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna; Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky; Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud

Chelsea vs Schalke

Chelsea will look to build upon their comfortable position in the Champions League group stages and shake off their defeat at Newcastle as they take on Schalke 04 at Stamford Bridge.

José Mourinho will make changes due to fitness and form from the game at St. James' Park - Fernando Torres will miss out through injury, while Juan Mata is likely to find himself on the bench at best.

Schalke, meanwhile, will look to build on their dangerous away form in the Bundesliga, with six wins and no defeats in their last seven games away from Gelsenkirchen.

Chelsea's 3-0 win at Schalke gave them a commanding position in the group after their shock loss to Basel, and a win here should see them take complete control. But Schalke - and Chelsea - are both capable of springing a surprise.

Two victories against Steaua Bucuresti and Schalke 04 have put Chelsea back on track as far as Champions League qualification is concerned.

Jose Mourinho's men lost their opening group encounter against Swiss side Basel, but the six points have seen them move to the top of the standings on goal difference.

On Wednesday they will play host to Schalke at Stamford Bridge, having defeated the German club 3-0 last time out in Gelsenkirchen.

It is expected that manager Mourinho could make some alterations to his starting lineup, with the likes of Gary Cahill and Samuel Eto'o thought to be pushing for recalls.

Meanwhile, Julian Draxler should start for the away side. The 20-year-old, who has scored two goals in the competition this season, is believed to have attracted the attention of Manchester United and Arsenal.

Schalke make the trip to West London in positive form away from home, having won six of their last seven matches on the road.

The two teams met at the Bridge back in the 2007, when the Blues ran out 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba either side of half time.

However, Schalke claimed a 2-0 victory from their last trip to London in 2012 at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

Recent form

Chelsea: WWWWWL

Schalke: WWWLLW

Possible starting lineups

Chelsea: Cech; Cole, Cahill, Terry, Ivanovic; Essien, Mikel; Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard; Eto'o

Schalke: Hildebrand; Uchida, Howedes, Matip, Aogo; Jones, Boateng, Neustadter, Draxler, Meyer; Szalai

Barcelona vs AC Milan

FC Barcelona can extend their lead at the top of Group H to a maximum of five points tomorrow, as they prepare to host Max Allegri's struggling AC Milan at the Camp Nou. It will be the eighth time in the past three seasons that these two clubs have squared off in UEFA Champions League action and over that period at least, the Blaugrana have made the Camp Nou something of a fortress, winning two and drawing the other meeting with the Rossoneri. This run of course culminated with Barcelona's spectacular 4-0 mauling of Milan back in March -- in a performance that many labelled as the best since the Manita victory over Real Madrid in November 2010.

High praise indeed, and one could be forgiven for expecting a similar result tomorrow evening. After all, Barcelona will be fully rested after their four day break while Milan continue to struggle with both injuries and poor form. Admittedly their home form has only been patchy at best, but Milan's away form has been nothing short of abysmal: Allegri's side are yet to register an away win this season (in seven attempts). As evidenced by their atrocious defensive record (15 goals conceded in those seven fixtures), Milan simply don't possess the same defensive discipline away from the San Siro -- and dare I suggest that the quality of the pitch may have something to do with this record?

Whatever the reason, the Rossoneri need to rectify their problems -- and fast. At this rate, Allegri only has a matter of games to save his job -- and the UEFA Champions League matches must be of particular importance if one assumes that Milan's UCL standing is one of the few saving graces of Allegri's increasingly shambolic reign.

With that in mind, how will Allegri approach this game? Will the pressure liberate the Italian to try a different, more offensive approach, or will it force Milan into a defensive shell and hope for a point?



Brazilian full-back Adriano Correia is set to make his return after a slight knock ruled him out of Friday's derby win over Espanyol, although there are still a few question marks surrounding the match fitness of Barça's four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi. His "downturn" or "decline" has been well documented, with many pointing to Messi's recent injury as a reason for his slight drop in statistical productivity. Note that I fall short of saying "form" because really, Messi has been playing well. Whatever the case, all eyes will be on Messi tomorrow, who will undoubtedly be hoping to return to goalscoring form in front of the adoring Camp Nou crowd.

Victor Valdes helped himself to a tenth clean sheet of the season on Friday and has a chance to make it three in a row tomorrow -- an accomplishment that has evaded him thus far this season. In fact, you have to go as far back as x for the last time that Barça registered three consecutive shut-outs; so is it realistic to be hoping for another clean sheet tomorrow?

At face value it does seem odd.  Barcelona will be up against one of the most talented strikers in the world in Mario Balotelli and let's face it; the form book really isn't on our side here. However, recent performances seem to suggest that Gerard Piqué is back to or at least approaching his very best, while Barça's full-backs are no longer being frequently caught out. Certainly I'm having trouble identifying those shortfalls that countless experts analysed ad infinitum in the summer.

Even without a Thiago Silva or a David Luiz, the Blaugrana seem a little more balance – perhaps as a result of Jordi Alba’s injury? If true, Martino may have a difficult decision to make upon the Catalan full-back’s return to fitness, but for now, let’s turn our attentions back to tomorrow’s game; who will start in the Barça backline?

Chances are that both Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves retain their places in the starting line-up, although it’s possible that both Martin Montoya and Javier Mascherano could drop to the bench despite playing their part in Friday’s clean sheet. Adriano’s return to fitness definitely hints that he will return to the fold, while I have a feeling that Martino may be looking to hand a start to either Marc Bartra or Carles Puyol – the latter of course forms a formidable partnership with the resurgent Geri Piqué, and the double-act are yet to feature together since Puyol’s return from a seven month lay-off.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets could probably use a rest, but is unlikely to get one given the stature of tomorrow’s opposition, as well as the importance of the fixture, meaning that Martino may well want to plan for a Busquets-less midfield on Sunday by resting Xavi. Cesc Fàbregas could deputise in his absence, while Andrés Iniesta would continue to fill the other advanced midfield berth. Rumours from the oft-unreliable and sensationalist Daily Star over here in England suggest that both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are readying bids in excess of £15 million for young Sergi Roberto – so I expect many of you will be in favour of starting Roberto in order to pre-empt another "Thiago", but I remain doubtful that he is ready for a match of this calibre, so he’ll likely have to make do with a place on the bench – at very best.

Moving onto the attack, let’s gloss over Lionel Messi. We know he’ll start and the whole "form" thing was mentioned earlier, so there’s no real need to revisit it again; but there is a need to revisit another topic: the form of Alexis Sánchez and Neymar. Barça Blaugranes editor Luis Mazariegos summarised it best when he said that they are "proving the doubters wrong".

Neymar has coped admirably with the "step up" from Brazil to Europe, further lending weight to the argument that European football isn’t actually that far ahead of football’s second-biggest continent, all the while demonstrating the teamwork that arguably sets him apart from the likes of Robinho and if we want a Barça-related example, Keirrison, who both made similar big money moves, only to struggle to replicate the form they displayed back in Brazil. Alexis Sánchez on the other hand had previously struggled for confidence and indeed clarity about his role in first Pep Guardiola’s, then Tito Vilanova’s system, but under Tata Martino, the Chilean has been a revelation. With seven La Liga goals to his name, he is easily on course to eclipse the 12 goal haul he achieved in his debut season, and he may even break the 20-goal barrier and become the first Barça player not named Lionel Messi to do so since Samuel Eto’o.

With any luck, both Sánchez and Neymar will start tomorrow, ideally making a similar impact to last Friday against Espanyol.


Mario Balotelli is fit and ready to start his first match at the Camp Nou, but enters this fixture stuck in something of a rut. He’s no longer the powerful striker to be feared by opposing defenders; at the moment, Balotelli is reverting back to his "Manchester City form", where he’s hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. On Saturday, "Super" Mario picked up his eighth yellow card of the season. When you consider that this doesn’t include the double-yellow/red card he earned against Napoli, and that he missed four matches through suspension/injury, it’s quite a total. He’s being petulant, and as Cristiano Ronaldo/Pepe/Sergio Ramos have demonstrated on countless occasions, Barcelona doesn’t bring the best out of petulant characters. Whether it’s a trademark strop, or a more violent approach, Barça often extract the worst reactions from short-fused players; will Balotelli be the next to make a fool of himself?


Barcelona: WDDWWW



AC Milan 1-1 FC Barcelona – 22nd October 2013 – UEFA Champions League

Robinho surprisingly gifted the Rossoneri the lead before the supposedly out-of-form Lionel Messi rescued a point with a sublime finish.


Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Adriano; Busquets, Fàbregas, Iniesta; Sánchez, Messi, Neymar

Milan (4-1-3-1-1): Amelia; Abate, Zaccardo, Zapate, Constant; De Jong; Muntari, Montolivo, Poli; Kaka; Balotelli

Monday, November 4, 2013

Melbourne Victory vs. Wellington Phoenix

Melbourne Victory vs. Wellington Phoenix November4/2013
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Melbourne Victory confirmed earlier this week that Kevin Muscat will follow where Ange Postecoglou left off.

The choice comes as no surprise, seeing that Muscat has been assistant since 2011 and spent 18 months under the tutelage of the new Socceroos boss.

The questions are now on Muscat and his credentials: does he have the tactical nous to switch things if they go wrong? Does he have the motivation to fire up the players when the chips are down?

Muscat is a passionate person, but he is aware of the mammoth task that lies ahead of him, labelling the Victory a “beast” to manage.

So it seems fitting that Muscat will be facing off against the coach that made him such a successful clog in early Victory days. Ernie Merrick led the Victory to two titles and three grand finals, but left in 2011 after a disappointing campaign.

He’s back now with the Phoenix, who despite early predictions have risen to a few challenges this season. They were unlucky to lose to Brisbane in Round One, followed that performance with a draw to the Wanderers at Parramatta and if it were not for some wayward shooting, would have defeated the Jets.

The team is slowly becoming a typical Merrick outfit: tight in defence, and pushing forward with a possession-based game. It’s a far cry from the counter-attacking defensive mindset of previous boss Ricki Herbert.

Key Battle

Mark Milligan v Carlos Hernandez.

The Victory know all about the Costa Rican playmaker. For five seasons, he was chief-creator for the Victory, but he’s back to haunt them now. Hernandez has made an instant impact on his return to the league, and when he clicks, so does the Phoenix.

The question on who to curve his abilities will rest on Victory Captain, Mark Milligan. The defensive midfielder is both destroyer and creator for the Victory, so it will come down to him to stop Hernandez having an influence on proceedings. The Phoenix’s talisman will also need to remember his defensive duties and try to curb the Victory’s key midfielder.

Team News

With a full squad at his disposal, the likelihood is that Muscat won’t change a winning formula, or the customary 4-2-2-2 formation that is part of the team’s structure. The return of marquee signing Pablo Contreras will raise questions of who will be omitted out of centre-back duo Nick Ansell and Adrian Leijer in the starting XI.

On the other hand, Merrick has admitted that his decision to play with three forwards in the last two games has contributed to the Phoenix’s slow starts.

“We can’t play with that many strikers in this team and I think I’ve learned my lesson now,” Merrick said.

“Defensively we did fine in the midfield, but there was no progression forward – there was no transition from the midfield to the strikers.”

Merrick isn’t known for making the same mistake three times, which means he will change the team for this week’s clash. The question of who will be dropped from the line-up is unknown.

Last Meeting

Wellington Phoenix 2 Melbourne Victory 3

It was the final round of the year, with Victory looking to confirmed third place and the Phoenix hoping to get off the bottom of the table after a terrible season. The Melbourne side went up 3-0, thanks to a double by Marco Rojas and Marcos Flores. But the home side provided a grandstand finish with two late goals by Jeremy Brockie that had the Victory hanging on for dear life in the dying stages of he match.

The Prediction:

Melbourne Victory 2 Wellington Phoenix 0

The Phoenix will be looking to spoil the party, and they are due for a win soon. Although they appear an improved outfit, the hosts will have too much quality for their opponents. The Victory are in a decent patch of form and on a special Monday night match in front of their partisan fans, they will be extremely confident of grabbing the three points.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Madrid

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Madrid November2/2013
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Struggling Rayo Vallecano take on Real Madrid in La Liga on Saturday looking to get themselves out of the bottom three.

Vallecano have the worst goal difference in the league, which is largely down to their miserable away form, and they come up against a Real side who put seven past Sevilla on Wednesday night.

Real recovered from their El Clasico defeat against Sevilla last time out, with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo particularly impressive.

Rayo have a couple of injuries still lingering including Nery Castillo, while Carlo Ancelotti could well name an unchanged side.

Recent form



Possible starting lineups

Rayo: Ruben; Arbilla, Niguez, Galvez, Tito; Adrian, Trashorras; Falque, Viera, Lass; Bueno

Real: Lopez; Arbeloa, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Illarramendi, Khedira; Bale, Isco, Ronaldo; Benzema

Hoffenheim vs Bayern Munich

Hoffenheim vs Bayern Munich November2/2013
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Hoffenheim take on Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich on Saturday looking to maintain their solid start to the new season.

The hosts have drawn three of their opening five games at home, although they are tough to beat in front of their own fans with just one defeat.

Bayern are starting to find their scoring touch with 12 goals in their last three in all competitions, but they have been behind in each of their last two league games.

The hosts have a number of players still out, including defenders Alexander Stolz and Matthias Jaissle, while Dante and Claudio Pizarro are unlikely to be available for Pep Guardiola.

Recent form

Hoffenheim: WLDDLW

Bayern: WWWDWW

Possible starting lineups

Hoffenheim: Casteels; Beck, Abraham, Sule, Salihovic; Polanski, Rudy, Strobl, Firmino; Modeste, Volland

Bayern: Neuer; Rafinha, Van Buyten, Boateng, Alaba; Lahm; Robben, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Ribery; Mandzukic