It says a lot about the strength of the Bundesliga leaders that Bayern Munich are likely to drop three players that contributed 7 goals and 4 assists in their 9-2 victory over Hamburg at the weekend. With Jupp Heynckes resting a number of key players, Claudio Pizarro, Xherdan Shaqiri and Arjen Robben are expected to find themselves benched in favour of Mario Mandzukic, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller. Elsewhere Daniel van Buyten may return at the expense of Jerome Boateng in defence in what would be Heynckes first choice XI.
Juventus manager Antonio Conte can also choose his first choice side for what is likely to be the tie of the round.
This is arguably Juventus’ first real test under Conte and will put their domestic success into a European context. The blip against Arsenal aside, Bayern have looked all-conquering for much of this campaign and are many people’s favourites for the competition.
Tactical Comparison: 4-2-1-3 vs 3-1-4-2
Both managers are relatively set upon their preferred style of play, which may rule out in potential for tactical surprises. This may be bad news for Juventus, as theoretically Bayern play the perfect system to combat the Italians.
Juventus’ strength usually lies in their extra man at the back, the freedom of Andrea Pirlo to dictate the game and the energy of their midfield pairing Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio. Bayern combat all these factors well. Their front three should cause Juventus problems with the width provided by Ribery and Muller stretching Juventus’ defence across the pitch. If Conte withdraws his wing backs to cover he would lose an attacking outlet and Bayern’s full backs are equally adept at getting forward. In Toni Kroos Bayern also possess a central playmaker with the positional discipline to track his direct opponent (Pirlo) and the energy to escape him. In midfield Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez have the strength and the quality to cope with Vidal and Marchisio.
Juventus have a few positives to cling to. When Italy beat Germany 2-1 in the European Championships last summer there were 6 Juventus players competing against 7 Bayern players. Germany played a similar way to Bayern, but Kroos failed to stifle Pirlo and Germany’s defence struggled with the movement of Italy’s front two. The same could happen here – the forwards may be different but with both David Alaba and Philipp Lahm keen to get forward, the lateral movement of Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri may find space in the channels. Kroos vs Pirlo is also a repeat, although the Italian was greatly helped by his side having an extra man in midfield, whereas tonight he will have no such luxury.
Tactical Adjustments: Attacking width
In Europe Italian team so often find themselves confronted with attacking width, a feature not common in Serie A. Conte will be used to fielding sides against two-man forward lines, so Bayern’s trio should cause them problems. Aside from losing a spare man, the width of the German forward line, and the movement of Ribery and Muller, will demand the widest centre backs, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli will need to move wide on occasion, but without leaving gaps between themselves and Leonardo Bonucci. Juventus are used to defending the flanks with their wing backs, but with Alaba and Lahm also moving forward from full back they face a tough test out wide.
Individual Analysis: Toni Kroos
Kroos is so often Bayern’s key player as he adds an extra dimension to their play, offering a defensive presence combined with creative movement at the head of Heynckes’ midfield. His usual role is to link midfield and attack, but with Bayern’s front three against a three-man defence, the Germans can afford to be a little more direct with their passing, leaving Kroos to spend much of his time occupying Pirlo. It would be harsh on others to suggest that Juventus are a one-man team, but keeping Pirlo quiet does severely restrict their play. As already mentioned, Kroos struggled against him for Germany in the European Championships, but Italy’s midfield diamond gave Germany a greater dilemma that would have distracted Kroos from the task. Here the midfields are equally matched, suggesting an individual battle. Kroos is rarely given the credit he deserves for his work-rate and link-up play, but should he succeed against the vaunted Pirlo and contribute to Bayern’s attacks then his stock should rise considerably.
It might be possible to make a case for Juventus competing with any other one of Europe’s elite, but Bayern just seem to be perfectly designed to combat the Italians’ threat – the positioning of Kroos, the strength of Schweinsteiger, the width of Ribery, Muller and the full backs. Conte may even switch to a back four for the away leg, an alteration he hasn’t done in a while. This is a new experience for him – Juventus have been so dominant in Italy for the past 18 months that going into a game as such an underdog as they rightly are will be a shock. The first leg in Munich should surely be used to test the water and stay in the tie ahead to the return leg in Turin.
For Bayern there is curiosity – Juventus must be respected but their quality cannot be gauged at this level. Combatting Pirlo will always be a key tactic, but Heynckes should also trust the quality of his players. If Bayern respect Juventus too much they might just underestimate their own ability to record a decisive win in the home leg.