Why Bayern Munich vs. Juventus Could Be a Champions League Classic
Tuesday sees the return of Europe’s premier club competition, with the Champions League having now reached the quarter-final stage, so it is now, to coin a phrase from Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, “squeaky-bum time.”
And what an eye-catching last-eight showdown we have to kick off proceedings as two heavyweights of the European game go head to head over what is sure to be 180-plus minutes of pulsating, edge-of-your-seat, fast-paced football between Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich and Serie A champions Juventus.
The first leg takes place at the Allianz Arena in Bavaria on April 2, with the decisive return encounter on April 10 at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, with a coveted place in the semi-finals the reward for the victor.
Of all the four quarter-finals on show, this matchup is the most eagerly anticipated for these following reasons...
The Managers: Master vs. Apprentice
In the opposing dugouts over these two legs, we have a fascinating clash between two head coaches from opposite ends of the managerial ladder.
In the Bayern corner we have veteran boss Jupp Heynckes, a man who played in the 1977 European Cup final for Borussia Monchengladbach against Liverpool before going on to oversee Real Madrid’s shock 1998 Champions League final victory over none other than Juventus.
However, Heynckes was also in charge last season when the Bavarians surprisingly lost the final on their home ground to Chelsea on penalties, so the German has a mixed relationship with the "cup with the big ears."
His counterpart on the Juve bench, while 24 years younger at just 43, has also endured a love-hate relationship with the Champions League over the years, with Antonio Conte actually featuring for the Bianconeri in that upset loss to Madrid in Amsterdam 15 years ago—one of two European Cup final defeats that he played in for the Italian giants during his glittering playing career.
So who will prevail, the eminence grise of European football or the novice?
A Champion Contest in Every Sense
One thing that is certain come kickoff time in Munich and Turin is that we will be watching the champions-elect of both Italy and Germany do battle over these two legs in a matchup that epitomises exactly what the old European Champions’ Club Cup used to all about before its subsequent reincarnation as the latter-day Champions League—and that is a contest between two national title-holders.
While Conte and Co. look well-placed to retain their Serie A title, leading second-place Napoli by nine points with just nine games of the season left to play, Die Roten hold an even greater advantage in Germany, with the Bavarians a massive 20 points clear of champions Borussia Dortmund in second with only eight matches left of the Bundesliga campaign.
And so this really will be a champion contest between two European superpowers.
It’s All in the Mind
Both of these two giants of the continental game have dominated European football’s premier club competition at various different stages over the years, although interestingly enough they have never previously met in the final.
Juve’s love affair with the European Cup did not really start to get going until the Eighties, despite one appearance in the final in 1973, although like their counterparts they have endured more misery than joy when it comes to this competition.
In total, Juventus have appeared in seven finals, but have only won the tournament on two occasions (1985 and 1996), and even the first of those was marred by the Heysel tragedy.
Bayern, meanwhile, have been in nine finals in total over the years, but yet have only managed to bring the cup home to Munich on four occasions (1974-76 and 2001) in a heartbreaking run that includes defeats in two of the previous three finals.
Consequently, while without doubt we will have on display two Champion League heavyweights, they are also two sides with mental scarring when it comes to this great competition, which should make for an even more fascinating contest.
If it is goals that you are after over the two legs, however, then you may be in the wrong place as both sides possess two of the most outstanding goalkeepers currently on display.
Between the sticks for Juve will be the 35-year-old Gianluigi Buffon, a man who has played 352 games for the Turin club, as well as 126 times for the Azzurri, in an 18-year career at the very top level, with many experts still considering the Alice-band wearing shot-stopper as the best in his profession.
And opposite him over the two legs will be Bayern and Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer, a man eight years Buffon’s junior, although already with two Champions League semi-final appearances to his name in the past two seasons, as well as 38 caps for Die Mannschaft. Neur also has fair claims to be the world’s best goalkeeper on current showing.
Whoever emerges on top in this fascinating battle of arguably the two best keepers in world football should go a long way to deciding which of these two teams makes it through to the semi-finals.
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
While football is clearly a game not played on paper, there are still some intriguing statistics going into this showdown that threaten to make it an absolute classic.
For starters, Juventus have incredibly not lost on the road in Europe since being thrashed 4-1 by Fulham in the Europa League over three years ago, while they are also unbeaten in their previous 18 matches both home and away in continental competitions.
However, perhaps more ominously for the Bavarians, not only have Juve won all five last-eight clashes against German sides in Europe, but they have also won all eight two-legged European contests that they have played against sides from that country.
Meanwhile Bayern, who have won 17 of their previous 18 games in Europe at the Allianz Arena, do have happy memories of the last time that they played Juve in the Champions League four years ago, thrashing the Italians 4-1 in Turin.
So, something has to give this time around.
It’s a Game of Defence Versus Attack
While it would be a gross oversimplification to characterise these two showdowns as being a contest between Bayern’s ultraefficient attack and Juventus’ granite-like defence, there is no doubting where the two respective sides’ strengths lie.
Heynckes’ side, who are this season’s top scorers in the Champions League with 18 goals, will be concentrating on finding ways to penetrate the parsimonious Juve back four that has not conceded a single goal in any of their past five Champions League encounters.
So, this intriguing aspect of the matchup could ultimately go a long to deciding which team emerges victorious over the two legs.
Old School Versus New School
And finally, both sides will line up over the two matches in contrasting formations that should add an extra fascination from a purely tactical viewpoint, with Juve playing in their now famous 3-5-2 formation that they seem to have brought back to life in modern football, with two attacking wing-backs constantly supporting the play and three central defensive rocks at the heart of their defence.
Meanwhile, Bayern will shape up in a more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, concentrating on high-energy pressing of the opposition when without the ball and neat accurate passing and counterattacking when in possession of the ball.
And as a result, the fierce battle for midfield supremacy will prove absolutely vital in helping to shape the direction of these two matches, as the likes of world-class operators Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal go head to head with Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez in what is a genuinely mouth-watering prospect.