It is match-day five and yet, qualification is not guaranteed.
Bayern tops their group in the Champions League on virtue of a better head-to-head over second placed Valencia. In the Champions League, head-to-head comes before goal difference. Thus Bayern can seal qualification and virtually ensure a top spot with a win in Spain. It will not come easily but there should at least be no worries about complacency after the events in Nürnberg.
An early goal gave Bayern the perfect start in Bavaria. Jupp Heynckes made many changes to the team. Arjen Robben was dropped as he was injured. He will miss out the Valencia clash as well. Franck Ribéry had a small problem. This allowed Xherdan Shaqiri to come into the lineup. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk replaced Javier Martinez in defensive midfield.
Rafinha surprisingly enough came in for petite captain Philipp Lahm. The substitutions did have an effect—unfortunately, it was a negative one. Bayern was far too open with Tymo, Rafinha and even Van Buyten in the lineup. The sheer presence of Luiz Gustavo was missing. Gustavo has been ruled out of Tuesday’s clash too.
The goal Bayern conceded nonetheless was a strange one. Markus Feulner’s shot bobbed and bounced its way past the confused Manuel Neuer into the goal. What will concern Jupp Heynckes will be just how early Bayern conceded it. It was in the second minute of the second half when Bayern’s lead was erased.
Heynckes however sounded the right notes in his post-match conference. Everyone perhaps does have to understand that Bayern won’t win every game. Derbies are usually heated affairs and this one was no different. There was also a red card but it came a tad too late for a Bayern side which couldn’t keep the ball for more than ten seconds in the game.
The performance it must be said definitely did not warrant a win. A point at the end of the day was quite a good result as Leverkusen, surprisingly and at the same time not so surprisingly, beat second placed Schalke. While Bayern’s dropped points allowed BVB and Leverkusen to cut down their deficits, Bayern still gained an advantage over Schalke. The lead is now up to eight points.
Regarding injuries ahead of Tuesday, Jerome Boateng is also out of this one. Holger Badstuber might start after not featuring on the weekend despite being fit. Javier Martinez might fill in at the back as Van Buyten doesn’t seem to be the perfect candidate for the centre of defence. That will however leave a gaping hole in defensive midfield. Valencia is a tough team and will test Bayern more than most sides.
The group stage-opener which took place between these two sides was rather one-sided despite the final score reflecting otherwise. Bayern dominated possession and with better finishing could have finished off their opponents quickly. Diego Alves saved Valencia from a thrashing. Valencia’s goal came in injury time.
The game finished on Bayern’s terms nonetheless. The substitute Mario Mandzukic missed a penalty to bring an end to the proceedings. Bayern won 2-1. Bayern, despite that, is not a favourite for this one.
For Valencia, Pablo Piatti, Jeremy Mathieu, Joao Pereira and Sergio Canales are all out. Mathieu’s absence might hurt them as Mathieu is a very important member of their team. Piatti, Canales and Pereira are all very good in their own right of course and will also be missed. Nonetheless, the man Bayern will have to watch out for is Roberto Soldado.
In Munich, Soldado hardly had an impact. It was hard to even spot him on the pitch. On familiar territory, Soldado will be able to have a much bigger impact especially considering Bayern’s centre-back problems. Hardly anyone is predicting an outright Bayern win in this one.
A lot will come down to how brave Valencia is. They were rather embarrassingly cowardly at the Allianz. They showed no bravery whatsoever at the Allianz Arena. They can achieve more if they show some guts but might lose out as well because Bayern can counterattack well.
As long as they don’t decide to grow the grass to destroy the rhythm of Bayern’s passing or to water their field excessively, Bayern should be able to get going quickly. However, if this turns into an attack feast like the Basel match in February, it won’t be pretty. This could be the lineup:
Philipp Lahm-Anatoliy Tymoshchuk-Dante-David Alaba
Bastian Schweinsteiger-Javier Martinez
Thomas Müller-Toni Kroos-Franck Ribéry
Mario Gomez has been given the green light for this one and could come in if need be. Claudio Pizarro, the master of goals, could also come on if need be. He might even start after his exploits against Lille on the previous match-day.
This match will be a tense encounter and Valencia might take all three points.
What do you think will happen? Let me hear your thoughts.