Manchester City vs. Bayern Munich: Key Battles at the Etihad Stadium
In a match that promises to be one of the highlights of this year's Champions League group stage, Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich travel to Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City.
Considering the origins of the two managers and the situations of their respective clubs, the game offers plenty of subtext for fans and neutrals alike to get their teeth stuck into.
There's the underlying battle between Europe's established old money (Bayern) and the Champions League's upstart nouveau riche (City), the observable exporting of ideas from two of La Liga's most interesting coaches to England and Germany and even the usual individual clashes between the teams and players on the pitch.
Below are five of the key battles to focus on at the Etihad as the stadium hosts its first competitive European game of the season.
Vincent Kompany vs. Thomas Muller
As City's captain, Vincent Kompany is an inspirational figure able to fire up his teammates and encourage confident and assertive performances.
Yet as a defender, he is often able to completely mark players out of games. Against Manchester United in September, he utterly dominated Wayne Rooney and prevented the striker from dropping deeper to receive the ball and help his midfield.
While Thomas Muller has so far played in a more centrally positioned midfield role for Guardiola, the manner in which the German is often able to work defenders to create space for himself and others, could have a potent effect on City's star centre-back.
Mario Mandzukic is a busy and physical player able to pressurise and attack defences. With Muller's ability to cloak into space in-front, amongst and behind defensive lines, not to mention the threats posed by Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben from wide, Kompany will have his hands full against Bayern.
In fact, the defender could well find himself over-worked and outplayed should he attempt to do too much and forget to measure his efforts at the back.
Kompany's decision-making on which fights to pick, which threats to concede and how to manage the overwhelming pressure set to face his team may end up being more important than his individual contributions.
If he takes it upon himself to personally nullify Muller during their match together then City's defence could be disastrously twisted out of shape.
Yaya Toure and Fernaninho vs. Bastien Schweinsteiger and Phillip Lahm
It may be a surprise to some readers to find Bayern's treble-winning full-back and captain mentioned in the tag-team showdown between the two club's midfield pivots.
However, Guardiola has taken to playing Lahm as his anchorman in-front of the Bundesliga champions' defence describing the two-footed defender as, "the most intelligent player I have managed in my career. I'm delighted to be here, just because I get to manage him."
Judging by the manner in which his new manager has used Lahm, to cover for the attacking surges of Bayern's full-backs and redistribute possession, the converted midfielder has taken up a similar role to that played by Busquets in Guardiola's Barcelona team.
For that reason alone he could be considered to be his team's key player. But will City have the manpower to force his influence to be diminished during his visit to Manchester?
Yaya Toure's increased freedom to surge upfield has been a feature of City's system this season, with new signing Fernandinho covering his runs and adding technique and awareness in deep midfield areas in his absence.
Their balanced partnership should also be able to cope with one player taking a similarly direct approach defensively, although the powerful and influential Schweinsteiger will be on hand to not only support his teammate but to add his own pressure by driving forwards into space.
Fernandinho and Toure rendered United's pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick powerless as they swept through the midfield during the Manchester derby, but they may have to take a more pragmatic approach to dealing with Bayern's men in the centre of the park.
Joe Hart vs. Bayern's set pieces
David Alaba and Dante scored two of Bayern's three goals against CSKA Moscow from dead ball situations, with a direct free-kick and header from a corner respectively.
Lately, England goalkeeper Hart has looked poor compared to the standards he set in City's title-winning season.
With the one of Europe's most creative and prolific sides arriving at the Etihad to challenge his team, he must stay focused in order to deal with not only the chances they're sure to create in open-play, but also their threat from set pieces.
Bayern are a large and technically excellent team. Whether it's from challenging for balls in the air or through accurate strikes from range, City's goal will likely be bombarded from all angles.
Alvaro Negredo or Edin Dzeko vs. Dante
Although it's thought that Javi Martinez will take up a ball-playing role in defence once he returns from injury, for now Bayern's centre-backs remain as centre-backs.
Negredo and Dzeko have acted as highly mobile and surprisingly nuanced battering rams for City this season, threatening defenders with their aerial prowess and physicality while combining well with their more lithe teammates.
With his strength and agility, Dante is the perfect defender to match up against either of Pellegrini's large strikers, although it's interesting to consider whether this could be a game worthy of both forwards taking to the field.
Yet that would lead to Sergio Aguero's absence, whose form dictates that he faces a side who are potentially the best in the world on paper.
Much will depend on how City's front-line is serviced, with Bayern's powerful wingers and full-backs also adept at defending their flanks and lines. Jesus Navas has pace, but unlike his Barcelona, Guardiola's Bayern aren't as vulnerable to extremes of width and speed.
Instead, dribblers able to beat their men such as Samir Nasri could be vital, with Negredo or Dzeko distracting defenders in order to give trickier players a chance to create overloads down the middle or out wide.
Pellegrini's 4-2-3-1 vs. Guardiola's 4-1-4-1
Finally, the battle between the managers themselves will be key with City's disappointing European form set for the ultimate examination by Bayern's supposed supremacy.
How should Manchester City approach their home game against Bayern Munich?
With Guardiola unlikely to change his system (at least until Thiago and Martinez are available for selection later in the season), it may be Pellegrini that seeks to react even though he is the home manager.
City are gaining a reputation for being something of a big game team unable to carry their form over to crushing minnows, yet Bayern are very different prospect to a lightweight and unsettled United team.
Lahm and co are confident and aware of their abilities. They are a well-drilled, disciplined and tactically smart outfit. Under Jupp Heynckes, Bayern were able to react to opponents by mixing up their game, switching from their main proactive possession-based approach to the counter-attacking style they relied on in 2011-12.
City can't afford to compromise their approach completely and have the game dictated to them by Bayern, but they have to make arrangements for the threats that Guardiola's men offer.
Based on his record in Europe at Villarreal, Pellegrini is too astute a tactician not too.
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