FOX Soccer Exclusive
Bayern remains own worst enemy
Bayern Munich were in this same situation just a few short weeks ago.
Heading into the return leg against Arsenal with a two goal advantage, it seemed like a mere formality for the Bavarian heavyweights to stroll into the next round of the Champions League. Yet the Germans — now freshly-minted Bundesliga champions — nearly made a mess of it, losing 2-0 to the Gunners and squeaking through on away goals despite looking in command all game.
Against Juventus, (live, FOX Soccer Plus, Wednesday 2 PM ET) Bayern will try to avoid making it interesting for a second straight tie. They’ll be on the road for the return leg this time, but that should hardly be seen as a disadvantage. Bayern has lost just one away game in all competitions — a head-scratching 3-1 loss in frosty Borisov — and in fact looked better away from home for much of the year, including in the Arsenal tie.
For Juventus, the plan is rather clear-cut: attack, attack, attack. The Italians must win by three goals — whether that’s in the first 90 or in extra time — because they were not able to grab a crucial away goal at the Allianz Arena.
It’s a momentous task, but anyone who watched the thrilling end to Tuesday's Borussia Dortmund match knows that no deficit is insurmountable and no lead is safe until the final whistle.
Juventus’ talisman Andrea Pirlo is all too familiar with this concept, having been on the wrong end of a spectacular comeback once before.
"In Istanbul [the 2005 final], Milan were leading 3-0 against Liverpool and we were convinced we would win the Champions League," said the Italian playmaker. "The game finished 3-3, though, and we lost after penalties. We have to believe in ourselves and be convinced that we can turn things around."
Belief and fight will only take Juventus so far. The Serie A leaders will miss two key players in the return leg. Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner are both suspended after being dealt yellow cards in Munich. The task of covering Bayern’s prolific offense — which outshot Juventus 23 to 9 last week — has become even more daunting.
To ease the pressure, manager Antonio Conte knows that this time around, his team will have to take the game to Bayern, and not the other way around like in the first leg.
"If we want to peg them back, we need to impose our rhythm from the start," Conte said on Saturday. "We must be willing to take risks, even to go one-on-one with [Franck] Ribery or [Arjen] Robben. Robben's introduction for Kroos [during the loss at Allianz Arena] hurt us then.” Robben, of course, was introduced after midfield creator Toni Kroos was forced off with injury just 20 minutes into the contest. He has since been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Losing Kroos — Bayern’s best player in the emphatic 3-1 win in London — does hurt the Germans some, but with Thomas Muller seamlessly transitioning over to the center, it allows for Robben to make his eagerly awaited return to the starting lineup.
It is a wonderful chance for the Dutchman to turn around a personally trying season. Having lost his starting spot to Muller after a series of injuries and set-backs, rumors began circulating that there is no future for him in Munich after this season. But with a few more impressive starts, it could send a strong signal to incoming coach Josep Guardiola that Robben is still important to the team.
Perhaps more importantly for the Germans is the fact that Bastian Schweinsteiger, who missed the loss against Arsenal, and Javi Martinez — suspended for the first leg against Juventus — will finally pair up again for a Champions League game.
With Martinez in the lineup, Bayern has lost just one match all year (the same strange loss at BATE Borisov), and with Schweinsteiger, the team has its unquestioned leader and tone-setter on the field. Though certainly good enough without either one of them in the lineup, Bayern is clearly a much better side with both on the field.
In truth, Bayern remains their own worst enemy. The nerves were fluttering in the late stages of the Arsenal tie, and nearly awoke the ghosts from last year’s final loss to Chelsea. If Juventus are to grab an early goal on Wednesday, Bayern could once again face the prospect of fumbling away a certain victory.
Like we saw on Tuesday, anything is possible.
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