Tactical Battles That Will Shape Bayern Munich's Clash with Manchester City
Having qualified from the group stages of the Champions League for the very first time, Manchester City can almost afford to put their feet up in their final game of Group D away to the reigning champions on Tuesday.
Following five wins from five in the section and 7-0 victory at Werder Bremen at the weekend, Bayern Munich will present as formidable opposition as they usually do at the Allianz Arena, where City are likely to need to win by a three-goal margin in order to leap above the German champions and win the group (although a two-goal margin would be enough if City score four or more).
Such a victory is an unlikely one then, and with a huge Premier League clash against Arsenal on the horizon on Saturday, Manuel Pellegrini has indicated that he is set to make changes to his team.
Having already confirmed that Joe Hart will return in goal, Pellegrini told the Daily Mirror:
If you are asking me whether the game against Arsenal is more important than Bayern, I would have to say it is.
The players I choose against Bayern will still have a responsibility to try to win the game.
From the moment we qualified for the knockout stages, the Premier League became more important than the Champions League. When we start again in the last 16, Europe will once again become important.
But we have a lot of Premier League games and that is what we are focused on most of all.
So who will Pellegrini pick then, and which of the on-field battles will be the most important?
Here we've predicted six tactical duels which could shape the contest.
Franck Ribery vs. Micah Richards
The form of Pablo Zabaleta has kept Micah Richards on the sidelines for the majority of the campaign, and whilst the Englishman could return here he would surely wish for an easier task than facing Franck Ribery.
France star Ribery scored the opening goal in Bayern's 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium in October―one of the rare occasions which saw Richards play 90 minutes this season―and after finding the net twice in Bayern's stunning 7-0 win at Werder Bremen on Saturday, he's in fine form ahead of a match that he'll surely be desperate to play in.
Seemingly playing with a sense that he should win the Ballon d'Or for 2013, Ribery could give Richards a tough night.
David Alaba vs. Jesus Navas
After frequently being a starter in recent matches, Jesus Navas was relegated to the bench for the weekend draw at Southampton, but he looks set to return to the starting lineup here.
As he looks to raid down the City right, an equally impressive attacking force will be coming down the Bayern left, with the Austrian David Alaba likely to cause City problems and pin their Spanish right-winger back.
The 21-year-old Alaba has been a revelation since breaking into the Bayern side, and with two goals in this season's Champions League already, he will be a threat that City will be foolish to ignore.
Mario Gotze vs. Fernandinho
The impressive Mario Gotze started in the hammering of Werder Bremen at the weekend, and he'll be eager to keep his place in the side for this contest.
At just 21, the German appears to have both the world and a 2014 World Cup place at his feet, and after two goals in his four appearances in the Champions League this season, his will be a threat that City will have to keep more than just an eye on.
If he plays, then Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho will be required to stop the midfielder from breaking forward and getting into the box, but that will be easier said than done.
Dante vs. Edin Dzeko
After failing to impress when he was given a rare start at West Bromwich Albion last week, Edin Dzeko might just see this as a perfect opportunity for more than one reason.
Of course, if he starts, he'll be eager to do well in a bid to secure a more regular place in Pellegrini's plans, but the former Bundesliga title winner with Wolfsburg will also know that the whole of Germany will be watching, and so he might well attract potential suitors.
Brazilian defender Dante could be his direct opponent at the Allianz Arena, having come off the bench at the weekend, and what is sure to be a tough, physical battle might also be a compelling one to watch.
Mario Mandzukic vs. Vincent Kompany
Vincent Kompany has come back into the Manchester City side for the past two matches, but far from resting him for this contest, perhaps it would be better for his match fitness if Pellegrini played his captain from the start.
The Belgian would surely benefit from getting more minutes under his belt, and if he plays then he could well come up against Bayern's Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic, who scored two goals in three Champions League games this season, having fired the opener in the win over Borussia Dortmund in the final last season.
Mandzukic scored one of the seven in Bremen on Saturday, and will give Kompany his toughest test since his return if he does start.
Pep Guardiola vs. Manuel Pellegrini
Key to everything though, will be the battle between the managers.
Both Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini possess huge squads that are the envy of the vast majority of the footballing world, and so when they shuffle their packs for matches such as this one it ensures that most of that world is watching.
Differing combinations and partnerships are likely to be seen at Allianz Arena, and whichever one of the two tacticians gets those right is likely to be the one that wins the contest.
City's disappointing away form this season certainly makes Bayern the favourites for the contest, and if the hosts can function in the manner that we've all come to expect of them, then they could end their Champions League group phase with a 100 percent record.