Bayern – Juventus first leg, a mental test (preview)

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Bayern-JuventusTwo words: mental strength. This is what we need to see from Bayern if they are to be successful against Juventus FC in their first Champions League quarter-final leg at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday. Against a tactically proven opponent, one play could be decisive.

Juventus, it’s a collective thing

Injuries: Caceres, Pepe, Isla, Bendtner

The Italian champions are different from the teams we normally face at this stage of the competition. They do not count on a Ronaldo-Casillas or Xavi-Messi connection to carry them on their shoulders. Everybody is important and their collective game is what makes them hard to beat.

The Old Lady’s coach, Antonio Conte, plays a 3-5-2 formation that may turn into a 3-5-1-1. It clogs the midfield, making it hard to get to the last quarter of the pitch. The Italians may have six men in the middle to pressure us when we have the ball.

The key to Juve’s defence is compact, deep and and narrow deployment. Everyone regroups and defends, including energetic work on set pieces. If a top-notch attacker has the ball, he may have to deal with three guys.

There are three centre backs in their end. Left defender Giorgio Chellini has the best air game. He intercepts the ball and clears successfully. The same qualities can be found in right defender Andrea Barzagli. Both go a bit more forward than Leonardo Bonucci and they like to engage wingers.

Once in possession, Juve likes to use the whole width of the pitch, thanks to the pace and passing quality of its players. However, is not the best at dribbling, outside of midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. It has adopted a short passing game with heavy use of through balls. Therefore, running and good positioning are crucial to prevent them from creating chances.

Pirlo, a member of the old guard Italian guard at 34, has found new legs since his transfer from AC Milan. He dictates the game from a deep position as a central midfielder, having other men forming a central line in front of him. His passing is among the prettiest on the planet, creating scoring chances from anywhere, including the edges. A big worry is that he can score from a direct free kick or a long shot with precision, making the difference in a close game. As we concede on corners, I will be worried when he gets to take them.

Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal is strong on both ends of the pitch, fighting for every ball in his half and providing playmaking in the other. He is the best tackler in the team but he gets his share of yellow cards. Vidal was criticized for going to Juventus and he is angry at Bayern for it. Beware of the physical strength he may use against us. His counterpart Claudio Marchisio adds counter-attacking to those skills.

Offensively, Juve players share spoils. It’s amazing that striker Fabio Quagliarella leads the team with 8 goals and great finishing, despite the fact that he played only 19 times this season. He does well in Europe.

Mirko Vucinic is a good striker who fits very well into their system, adding creativity in the area. However, he is the most vulnerable in the team when it comes to turning the ball over. I would challenge him aggressively and test Juve’s defending on a fast counter, which is the most vulnerable aspect of a 3-5-2 system.

The team is backstopped by Gianluigi Buffon, still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Think of him as a refined shot stopper who does everything with grace, getting his fingertips on the ball, wherever it goes.

Bayern, in high spirit at the right time

Injury: Badstuber. Doubtful: Ribéry. Suspended: Martinez.

I can’t say it loudly enough: going in this tie with confidence is a key to making it to the next stage. The 9:2 win against Hamburg will help immensely, although we know that Juve will test us better than anyone did this season.

In my opinion, the midfield battle will make all the difference in this game and if anything breaks them down, it will be the contribution of our back four to the attack. Give-and-go passing in the middle, without individual mistakes, will be required to get past the midfield. Then, we should run down the wings to force Chellini and Barzagli to spread out. This will force Pirlo to drop back and defend.

Juve will grant attention and coverage to Franck Ribéry if his toe problems don’t keep him on the bench. For him (or Xherdan Shaqiri) to be effective, the left winger will need support from his mates, especially from the guys who play behind him.

Enter David Alaba, who resumed normal training on Monday. Remember our semi-final last year against Real Madrid. When playing against high-caliber teams, he takes the ball and turns into the disturbing force that takes it forward and creates plays that a winger cannot generate alone.

The van Buyten factor

With the help of full-backs Alaba and Philipp Lahm, we need to go towards the edges and jam the box. This requires crossing ability and finishing with headers. Celtic did some of that that against Juventus but they did not have Bayern’s quality. This is why I would play Daniel van Buyten in central defence. He could go up front with those headers and defend against corners with the same skill set. Dante’s air game should be useful on both ends as well.

Who should play up front? The 9:2 win against Hamburg made a good case for a combination of Claudio Pizarro at striker and Arjen Robben on the right wing. Their chemistry was magical. On the other hand, they are not as strong in the air, which I consider an extremely important asset against Juve. I am convinced that having Mario Mandzukic forward and Thomas Müller’s quirky but decisive moves will give us a better chance.

Javi Martinez is suspended for this game, forcing Jupp Heynckes to send Luiz Gustavo in. He doesn’t have the same versatility, but his ball-winning work could come in handy in a crowded midfield. His chemistry with Bastian Schweinsteiger also is excellent. I would be more worried if Schweini was missing…

The Rekordmeister love to control games from the midfield and keep possession. This will be much harder to achieve. Our weakness on corners is also likely to be a liability. With that in mind, if we defend as we did in the first leg against Arsenal and if we do not allow the Italians to scare us, this tie is manageable. It will require a clean sheet at the Allianz Arena and another strong performance in Torino.

It can be done, but it will be a mental test. If we don’t succeed at this, we are not champions material outside of Germany.

Possible lineups

FC Bayern (4-2-3-1)

Neuer – Lahm, van Buyten, Dante, Alaba – Gustavo, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Kroos, Ribéry – Mandzukic

Juventus FC (3-5-2)

Buffon – Barzagli, Chiellini, Bonucci – Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba, Marchisio, Asamoah – Vucinic, Matri

Game details

Location: Allianz Arena, München

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (England)

On two yellow cards: Vidal, Lichsteiner, Marchisio, Dante, Lahm

Talk on BayernForum.com
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