Bayern gnomes to challenge Juve’s giants (Preview)

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Berlin, Feb 22 (IANS) It is a duel millions of football fans can’t wait to see. When Italy’s Juventus and German champions Bayern Munich cross swords in the pre-quarterfinals first leg on Tuesday evening, many see it as a possible final in this season’s Champions League.

But as it is only a big challenge for two famous European clubs in the round of the last 16, the impact of its result is even bigger as Bayern Munich for one has dedicated their current season to winning the Champions League, reports Xinhua.

“This week you better not go to bed too early. It’s a game to watch for all of us,” said German national coach Joachim Loew.

But not only Loew expects a sort of “tactical festival”.

“Bayern will need two good days as Juve is a team which is known to be extremely clever tactically,” continued Loew. To be eliminated would for several reasons the biggest possible disappointment for Bayern. First: The attempt to end the Pep Guardiola era on a high note would have failed. And: Bayern’s official target is to reach the final.

This time, the challenge for Pep Guardiola against the 2015 Champions League finalist Juve might be bigger than ever as the 45-year-old Spaniard has to substitute his entire defence. Meaning: Bayern’s outstanding attacking squad has to solve the problem in the tightest match amongst this week’s Champions League clashes as both other duels (Arsenal-Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven-Atletico Madrid) contain, at first glance, a clear favorite.

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Guardiola will have to call upon his tactical genius to solve his defensive dilemma. Who will be his savior? Most likely Guardiola’s answer will be a four-man back line filled by what Germany is lovingly calling the “gnome defence”. It comprises: “Little” Philipp Lahm (1.70 meters tall), Joshua Kimmich (1.76m), David Alaba (1.80m) and Juan Bernat (1.72m) will go to battle with Juve’s giants for instance Alvaro Morata (1.90m) and Mario Mandzukic (1.87m).

Part of the Pep-answer, most pundits expect, will be a powerful attacking line-up. Meaning: Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller, Thiago, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski will have to save the ship from drowning. At least when it comes to Mueller, Juve seems to be seized by deep respect. “In fact there is one that makes you stop breathing. He is extremely effective and always part of the decisive moments,” Paul Pogba said. The Juventus star was talking about Thomas Mueller.

Mueller, 144 goals in 336 games plus 120 assists, is not only irreplaceable on the pitch, but Bayern’s conductor when it comes to team spirit. “Nobody score goals like he does,” said the returning Franck Ribery after Mueller had scored another unique goal in Bayern’s league game over the weekend against Darmstadt.

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Having Mueller in the team makes most Bavarians feel better. Dutch striker Arjen Robben for instance said, when answering the question whether Bayern expects “hell” in Turin, “We are used to hell”. Bayern’s hell workers not only will have to score a goal but concentrate on keeping the Italians away from their goal.

Despite the battle plan for the first leg, Bayern and Juve will meet on March 16 for the second leg in Munich, one can almost clutch tension in Munich with one’ s hands. It is crystal clear that having to face the current Juve is far from being a stroll in the park.

This time, everybody is certain, it won’t be like the quarter-final in the 2012/2013 season when Bayern won both games 2-0. After all, Guardiola’s mastermind abilities are being put to the test by injuries to his back-row giants Jerome Boateng (1.92), Holger Badstuber (1.90) and Javier Martinez (1.90) as well as Medhi Benatia (1.89). Bayern’s winter transfer Serdar Tasci (on loan from Spartak Moscow) is still regarded as being a big risk and the player, who has Turkish roots, will start on the bench.

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So it is up to the strikers to help out in defense — and avoid dead ball situations near Bayern’s goal. At least as far as the forwards are concerned, Bayern can be optimistic as Lewandowski (22 league goals and the season’ s top-scorer) and Muller (17 goals) are in brilliant form and Robben is, like Costa, expected to be able to invade Juve’s box. In addition French striker Franck Ribery has returned after a long injury break and is emphasizing that he is feeling “great” .

Thomas Mueller in particular seems to be unstoppable. “No doubt, we want to reach the final. We are extremely focused on that,” Muller said and, with a smile in his face, took a look at his back after the league game against Darmstadt. His back was full of scratches. “He looks like as if he has been in an infight with a woman,” said Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge jokingly.

Mueller retorted with a broad smile saying “Whatever it was, I survived”, knowing this Tuesday Juve’s will try to shut him out, and with all the means they have at their disposal. If that includes scratching, Mueller already knows how longer finger nails feel no matter who was resorting to them.

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