FC Bayern Munich: Valencia Awaits in the UEFA Champions League
Mainz pushed Bayern to the limits on Saturday. However, they couldn’t prevent last year's Champions League runners-up from earning an inevitable (at least after 12 minutes of play) three points. When Bayern is rampant, there is usually only one winner.
Against Mainz, the fastest goal in the league so far this season was scored. Mario Mandzukic was in the right place at the right time to bury the ball in the back of the net after Thomas Müller set him up. Bastian Schweinsteiger got at the end of a cross from Holger Badstuber to double the lead.
This is precisely where the problems started. Even without Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Javier Martinez, Bayern was already on top of a side they had struggled against in recent history. Hence, the team stepped down a gear and the match became scrappy. Mainz boss Thomas Tuchel made a double substitution at half-time and reverted to a 4-4-2.
Bayern was confused, and Dante soon made a clumsy tackle inside the box. Adam Szalai stepped up to take the resultant penalty and gave Manuel Neuer no chance. Bayern went in search of a third and missed a plethora of chances.
Martinez was introduced to calm Bayern down in place of Xherdan Shaqiri. He made 31 passes, all of which found a teammate, in about 15 minutes of play. He set up Toni Kroos for a sumptuous volley for the third and final goal, sealing the match and earning Bayern the points.
What was worrying about the match was just how open Bayern looked defensively. Dante was playing too far to the left, leaving a gaping hole in the middle for Jerome Boateng to fill. Bayern needs David Alaba or Diego Contento back as soon as possible. Schweinsteiger, of course, being one of the two defensive midfielders, was a little more susceptible to Mainz attacks than he would like to be.
These errors must be corrected ahead of the next match against Valencia. Bayern will kick off their Champions League campaign on the very ground where they ended it exactly four months before.
The pain is said to be forgotten by everyone but of course still remains. Valencia comes into this campaign coached by Mauricio Pellegrino, the man who missed one of the penalties in the 2001 Champions League Final against Bayern.
Valencia has a large number of injuries to deal with. David Albelda, Ever Banega and Sergio Canales will all miss this tie. Pablo Piatti is also set to be absent after breaking his arm. Finally, Fernando Gago is also a doubt.
Los Che drew recently against Deportivo, 3-3, and then beat Celta Vigo 2-1. Valencia started both matches well only to be pegged back by equalizers.
Deportivo took control of the second half, while Valencia recovered in the second half to score a winner against Celta. At the moment, they are seemingly lacking a strong and robust midfielder. Their back line has been quite leaky too.
While the Bayern defence hasn’t looked great as mentioned above, they haven’t exactly bled goals. They have given up only two in four matches and have registered fourteen at the other end.
Arjen Robben is racing to be ready for this one. Franck Ribery is also trying to do the same. Mario Gomez, David Alaba, Diego Contento and Rafinha are all out of the picture as we know.
Javier Martinez, despite performing well, isn’t perhaps ready to start just yet because of missing preseason with Bilbao. This match otherwise would have been a good one for him to start in, but one cannot forget that he has never played in the Champions League before.
Jupp Heynckes might decide to play him in defence and take Boateng out to left-back following a rather shaky performance by Dante against Mainz.
This is my best guess at a line-up:
Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Dante; Javier Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Franck Ribery/Xherdan Shaqiri, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller; Mario Mandzukic
This game is sure to bring back some pleasant memories. Bayern beat Valencia in the 2001 Champions League final. This is a reunion of the match that took place under the floodlights in Milan. The question now is: will Bayern win it?
Prediction: Bayern 3-1 Valencia
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