Champions League Preview: Bayern Munich-Juventus comes two rounds too soon
This should be the final. It didn’t occur to us when the draw happened two weeks ago, but given a fortnight to consider the matchup – to consider the styles, history, statures, and implications – this is the type of meeting that should get the full finals’ buildup. It’s Europe’s best team against the squad best situated to beat them, but thanks to the bad luck of the draw, we’re getting Bayern Munich-Juventus in March.
But look at the silver lining: Instead of one, 90-minute, endlessly hyped match, we get 180 minutes.
After Bayern throttled Hamburg on Saturday (and I relish the chance to use the verb “throttle”), there can be no doubt. They’re clearly the best team in Europe - a team that’s capable of putting up nine goals while resting stars for Champions League. A stumble in their last European match hints Bayern may not be able to translate domestic dominance to Champions League success. More likely: The close call against Arsenal served as a wakeup call.
But nothing short of a European Cup will quell the feeling there’s some fragility to this Bayern squad. When you blow a late lead at home in a Champions League final (as Bayern did last May), you have to craft a new memory to replace the old one.
In that sense, Juventus represents more than a quarterfinal. If Bayern can overcome a team with the quality of Italy’s champions, people will rightly assume they’ll be able to handle whomever they meet on the road to Wembley.
But it’s not just Juventus’s euphemistic “quality” that make them such a great test. The Bianconeri’s unique combination of talent, experience, style, and backbone make them a difficult matchup for anybody, and with an unparalleled ability to execute given the slimmest of opportunities, they’re better equipped than anyone to weather Bayern’s storms to strike in the few moments of calm.
Antonio Conte’s team can win matches they seem destined to lose. With three quality central defenders playing above one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Juventus doesn’t have to control games to have a chance to win (even if they often do). They can be patient. They can wait for others’ errors. They can give the impression they’re being pushed around before a piece of Andrea Pirlo precision, a Claudio Marchisio surge, a Fabio Quagliarella song or Alessandro Matri’s resourcefulness eventually breaks through.
You may have thought you were having your way, but with a locked elbow that keeps you at arm’s length, Juventus will finally make you realize: You were playing their game all along.
And with that dynamic, Juventus flips the script. In order to beat them, you have to match their execution. The likes of Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and Franck Ríbery will need brilliance over dominance to break though the Juventus defenses. Amid their waves of attacks, they’ll have to string together something special to get on the board against Juve.
And with the first leg at home, München needs that something special as soon as possible. Though they have the talent to get a result in Turin, we still don’t know if this Bayern team has the resolve.
- Jupp Heynckes rested Mandzukic, Müller, and Ríbery during this weekend’s 9-2 victory over Hamburg. With his top two left backs unavailable, he started midfielder Luiz Gustavo at fullback. FCB will look a lot different on Tuesday.
- Juventus, on the other hand, played almost a full team Saturday against Inter Milan, winning the Derby d’Italia 2-1. It’s a short trip from Turin to Munich (about 280 miles), but it’s also one being made on short rest.
- If you’re Antonio Conte, you have to be a little worried about a quick turnaround for 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo (right), particularly if Kroos or Bastian Schweinsteiger is tasked with marking Juve’s regista out of the game. Combined with high pressure from Bayern’s attackers, Juventus could have trouble.
- Consider Bayern’s bench options: Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Claudio Pizarro, who is coming off four goals and two helpers on Saturday. From every angle, this team’s scary.
- Juventus returns to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006 when they were eliminated by Arsenal.
- Both teams can afford to focus on Champions League. Juventus has a nine-point lead in Serie A and hosts last place Pescara between legs. Bayern has a 20-point lead in Germany and need only two more points to clinch the Bundesliga.
- Each side has a selection quandary in midfield.
Does Luiz Gustavo get the nod over Javi Martínez?(Javi Martínez is suspended for Tuesday’s match.) And goes Conte get Paul Pogba into the team while opening on the road?
Possible starting lineups
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm; Javi Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Frank Ríbery, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller; Mario Mandzukic.
Juventus (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli; Kwadwo Asamoah, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichtsteiner; Fabio Quagliarella, Alessandro Matri.