Greetings, Blues. As we all know by now, we have our opening Champions League match tomorrow against Bayern Munich. This seemingly traditional matchup is getting a bit boring to me but Mr. Platini certainly does not care about my opinion, nor do those little slips of paper in the Champions League draw. In any case, we have a big match to look forward to tomorrow.
To get the annual update on our German foes (or are we BFFs at this point?), I exchanged a few questions with Davis VanOpdorp from Bayern's excellent SB Nation blog, Bavarian Football Works.
- B&B: Is it even possible for anyone to challenge Bayern in the Bundesliga this year, or will we see Bayern run away with the league again?
BFW: Yes, I know. Everyone thinks the Bundesliga will be pointless because Bayern will inevitably win it. The fact is that Bayern are more vulnerable to title loss this season than seasons past. The age of some players will make it hard for them to stay on the field, and there is an unknown in regards to how the extended World Cup runs of Germany and the Netherlands will affect player fitness. The squad could be stretched in ways that it has not since the decline of Louis van Gaal, residual affects already surfacing in a disappointing performance against Schalke 04. Borussia Dortmund dominated Bayern in the DFL Supercup, a sign that Dortmund may be prepared to reassume the Bundesliga mantle. The table will be closer this year than in recent seasons, but Bayern are still the favorites to raise the dish.
- B&B: Tactically speaking, what formation do you expect Pep to put out on Wednesday, and would you make any changes? Anything of note form-wise individually, or injuries?
BFW: Pep Guardiola has dabbled with a back-three so far this season, but it is an adaptable formation that has shifted into a traditional four back system later in matches. His tactics could drastically change with the news of Holger Badstuber's tendon tear in his thigh. He said earlier this season that he prefers a back three so his squad can build up the play, but he knows that fielding four defenders is the safer play. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry will not be available for the match due to a knee injury (breathe a deep sigh of relief, City fans). However, Bayern still have plenty of potent options in attack to fill the void. Guardiola deploys his forwards in a flexible front three, Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, and Robert Lewandowski interchanging to try and pull defenders out of position. My guess is that he would switch back to a single-pivot 4-2-3-1, but with Guardiola's unpredictability, your guess is just as good as ours.
- B&B: Last year Bayern exited the Champions League in shocking fashion vs. Real Madrid. What adjustments has Pep made to ensure that things will be different this time around?
BFW: Well actually the shift to a three-center-back system is one of the ways Bayern is trying to contain the devastating counterattacks that were their undoing at the end of last season. The wingbacks played farther back to create more of a back-five look, but midfield support is there in the form of David Alaba, Xabi Alonso, and Philipp Lahm when the flankers bomb forward. The €26 million of Mehdi Benatia will certainly help. He was on the shortlist of best defenders in the Serie A last season, and gives Guardiola another reliable option at centerback. Bayern will still stay true to holding the ball, as winning the ball back as soon as they lose it.
- B&B: For obvious reasons City are in the news quite often and there is a pretty big spotlight on the team from the media. What do Bayern fans feel about City and their Premier League rivals? Does the amount of money spent put fans off completely, or is it refreshing to have a different English club in the Champions League conversation?
BFW: We are kind of sick of you! It is crazy that this is the third time that Bayern and Manchester City will meet in the group stage in four years. Why don't you try and pick on somebody else for a while? In all seriousness, the angst towards Bayern's Champions League rivals is spread equally through England and Spain. Most of the bitterness is towards Manchester United and Chelsea, both of whom came back to beat Bayern in the Champions League final. My personal hatred is towards the English tabloids, but that is something both Bayern and English fans may share.
- B&B: Care to make a prediction for the match?
BFW: As I wrote in our preview, this will be a war of attrition, and the first team to bend will be the one who breaks. I am confident that Guardiola will field a team that will cap the versatile attacking options City has to offer, and find a way to hinder the brutal counterattacks the English game is known for. I believe Bayern will win, but the match will be very close.
Many thanks to Davis for his time!