Munich, February 18 - "Win or it will be tight," claimed FC Bayern München's head coach Louis van Gaal before their match against 1.FSV Mainz 05. Depending on the result, that statement will have a double meaning.
Win and Bayern will create some momentum towards their rise in the German Bundesliga table to qualify for next year's Champions League. Borussia Dortmund currently lead the pack by 10 points and their lead is not yet in jeopardy.
However, a loss and Munich will not only fall back down the table, but out come the questions regarding the future of van Gaal with Bayern. And the drama will come at a critical stretch for the defending German champs.
After Mainz, Bayern travel to the San Siro to play their first leg of the Champions League knockout stage against Inter Milan. The Reds will return to the Arena to host Dortmund next Saturday and perhaps tighten the title chase.
The German Cup semi-final is next on the schedule, and the opponent will be long-time rival FC Schalke 04. The Royal Blues have struggled all year, but have risen from the depths of regulation to a respectable mid-table spot. That match is always a tough one and now with everything on the line for hardware, Bayern have to focus as it may be their only chance for a title this season.
The string of key matches ends against Hanover, who sit fourth right behind FCB before today's action. They are another team vying for that second spot and they will look to slay the German giants in two weeks time.
But it is all moot if Bayern do not earn the three points. "Our duty is to continue the chase," stated van Gaal.
Mainz are hoping to sweep both their matches against Munich. A 2-1 victory back during the Oktoberfest at the Arena gave Mainz a 10-point lead over Bayern that they have now lost, but they will have their home crowd behind them, with everything to win, and van Gaal & Co. with everything to lose.