European football expert Graham Hunter previews tonight’s Champions League quarter final as last season’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich take on Juventus.
Champions League: Bayern Munich v Juventus
The home side have galloped away with the Bundesliga title – it should be formalised this weekend.
A vicious seven-goal winning margin (9-2) over Hamburg last weekend, added to the fact that Juventus go to the Allianz Arena where last season’s beaten finalists thirst for victory like a lost explorer craves a beer in the Sahara – well it’s a fait accompli, isn’t it Guv?
Bayern not only to win but to give the Italian champions a chasing. Well, possibly, but I’m a little wary.
Munich probably have better players on balance but Juventus, watch out people, are an outstanding team.
To go unbeaten while winning Serie A then to cope while the coach is suspended for the first half of the season and still establish comfortable elbow-room at the top of the Scudetto while flourishing in the Champions League. This, too, is no mean feat.
Schweinsteiger will have his hands full
One of the absolute keys to supremacy tonight is where having superior numbers matters most.
To explain. Juve will probably finesse their usual 3-5-2 formation and ask Marchisio to be the link man in a 3-5-1-1 behind Vucnic. It means that there will be times in midfield when Bayern’s four-man strike force (perm four from Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben) in the 4-2-3-1 formation will give them superiority over Juve’s three-man backline of Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli.
However, particularly with Javi Martinez suspended, there will also be times when the defensive, organising element of Bayern’s midfield, probably Luis Gustavo and Bastien Schweinsteiger, may find themselves working against five or six men – Peluso, Pogba, Pirlo, Vidal, Lichsteiner and Marchisio when he drops back to scavenge.
Which numerical superiority will hand supremacy in the match?
I’ve heaps of respect for how organised, hungry and domineering Bayern have been in Jupp Heynckes’ final season – but here’s my slight concern.
They may well win tonight but another obstacle they face is one we’ve seen rear its ugly head in recent years.
Once, particularly in the stellar days of Beckenbauer, Breitner, Maier, Roth and Muller you could count on Bayern (and the German national team) to be both ruthless and incredibly cold-eyed. Show them a weakness and opponents were buried. Think you’ve got them on the rack and like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction they’d rise from the floor and get hands round your throat.
Not now. Bayern fluffed the 2010 final, basically not showing up against Inter Milan and were biblically wasteful of chances to win last May against Chelsea. The national team (often containing large numbers of this side like Lahm, Neuer, Muller, Schweini and Kroos) have been perpetual semi-finalists or finalists since World Cup 2006 (where they lost to Italy) right up to Euro 2012 (when they lost to Italy).
It’s a common phenomenon in sport to see talented chokers. I wasn’t impressed by how easily they were gifted a 3-1 lead at Arsenal last round … or how easily a wounded Arsenal side carved out a 2-0 away win in the second leg.
These are two absolute greats of European football but this is their first ever knock-out meeting. The record so far is Juve 3 wins, Bayern 2 wins and a draw.
But the stakes tonight are higher than in any of the previous six meetings since Group A in winter 2004 – mentality, nerve and psychology will all play their parts tonight and next week.
Favourites –yes, okay, Bayern. Great to watch – yes, okay, Bayern. Juventus – dangerous and a very good bet to score and draw. Enjoy.