Bayern Munich continue their brave quest for more silverware this evening with a trip to Old Trafford as they take on Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
“We know we’ll have two difficult games," stated the Bayern Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ahead of the game on the club's website on Monday. “Man United have not been that impressive. But that is exactly the problem, they’re like a groggy boxer who can still hurt an opponent with a well-aimed blow. We aren’t up against second-rate opposition.”
Yet despite the diplomatic words of wisdom from the club's hierarchy, the Bavarian club have stormed the European competition with some deadly precision, and following their Bundesliga title win last week, Pep Guardiola's side will be strong favourites for the tie.
We begin in defence where both Guardiola and Man United coach David Moyes will focus much of their attention throughout the game, as the Catalonian hopes to cement a somewhat weak spot in the side whilst the Scot will look to exploit it.
The issue of Bayern's back-line of course comes from the one-match suspension of Brazilian defender Dante, following his yellow card against Arsenal in the previous match, which leaves Javi Martinez—a central midfielder by nature—and the rather precarious Jerome Boateng to guard Manuel Neuer's goal from the best that the English side can offer.
What makes matters worse is that Philipp Lahm—club captain and one of the best defenders at the club—will probably have to stay in midfield to deal with injuries in that area of the pitch. Leaving the ever-excellent David Alaba at left back and the attack-minded Rafinha on the right.
In midfield we should see the aforementioned Lahm in his new role of defensive midfield, as Guardiola looks to tighten up the space in front of his two exposed centre-backs. Man United will look to flood the area with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa—a player who never actually lost to Bayern whilst at Dortmund—and it'll be down to the German international to keep both quiet.
In front of Lahm we should see the ever-present Bastian Schweinsteiger keep his role as box-to-box imposer, where he will be asked to keep an eye on the back-line while making late runs and supporting the attacking players too.
Thiago Alcantara picked up a nasty torn ligament in his right knee against Hoffenheim at the weekend, meaning he will be out of action for the time being. As such we should see Toni Kroos take his spot back in the first team as the furthest forward of Guardiola's midfield trio.
Once we get to the forward line that Bayern should put forward against the former English champions tonight, things get a little more complicated.
Unlike the defence or midfield that tend to pick themselves on nights like tonight, Guardiola would have thought long and hard about whether to start the goal-scoring, indirect prodigy Thomas Muller or the more direct, conventional Mario Mandzukic. Both with their own merits that alter how Bayern play.
Yet we think in the first leg, in a match that should prove a rather tight affair, Guardiola will stick with his first-choice striker in Mandzukic, while the in-form and proverbial big-match duo of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben take their cemented spots on either wing.