As Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena prepares for the biggest match of its season, it would be no surprise were an unsettling feeling of deja vu to be pervading the arena. For the third season in succession, the Bundesliga giants will go into the second leg of a Champions League semifinal against a Spanish club having come away from the first leg with a defeat and without an away goal.
For Real Madrid in 2014 and Barcelona in 2015, read Atlético Madrid in 2016. A 1-0 defeat at the Vicente Calderon last week means Bayern are right up against it if they are to avoid Pep Guardiola’s time in Munich ending just shy of the Champions League final in all three of his seasons.
It is not the only unnervingly familiar aspect to Bayern’s climax to the season. On Saturday, Guardiola’s side had the chance to wrap up the Bundesliga title but could only draw 1-1 at home with Borussia Monchengladbach to leave the race still theoretically alive going into the final two rounds of the campaign, with Borussia Dortmund trailing by five points.
Bayern remain huge favorites to land a third straight championship under Guardiola’s charge, but it would be hard not to be concerned that, in a league which they are dominant, their form appears to tail off at the time where they need to be at their very best.
Last season, Bayern lost three of their final four Bundesliga matches surrounding a 3-0 defeat at the Camp Nou to effectively end their hopes of reaching the Champions League final. And in Guardiola’s first season, Bayern’s only two league defeats of the season came in their final six games, ahead of a humbling 5-0 semifinal loss to Real Madrid.
Is it the case that Bayern’s superiority at home prevents them form maintaining their intensity when it comes to the climax of the season, or from being able to raise themselves against much tougher opposition than they face week in, week out? Guardiola’s tactics have also come under scrutiny, particularly his decision to start with Thomas Müller on the bench in the first leg in Madrid.
Still, there very much remains a chance that all of those questions will be brushed aside by a second-leg triumph. On Saturday, Müller was on target to net his 32nd goal of the season in a match where Guardiola made eight changes and welcomed back center-back Jerome Boating from injury.
Another fact to give Bayern confidence is that they have been far stronger at home in Europe than on the road, winning their last 11 matches at the Allianz Arena in the Champions League.
Yet the task of scoring at least one goal against Atlético promises to be far from straightforward. A 1-0 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday to keep Diego Simeone’s side behind Barcelona at the top of La Liga on head-to-head record alone was their seventh straight victory and sixth without conceding a goal.
In this season’s Champions League, Atlético have conceded just five goals in 11 matches. And Saúl Ñíguez’s superb individual goal in the 11th minute of the first leg has given Atlético plenty to hold onto at the Allianz Arena. The defense in charge of doing just that is likely to feature Diego Godín, after the inspirational Uruguayan center-back returned to training following an injury that kept him out of the first leg.
Prediction: While he was widely criticized, there was clearly a plan to Guardiola leaving Müller out of the first leg. The Catalan wanted to spread Atlético out wide with the pace on the wings of Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman. To an extent it worked, however the men in question repeatedly disappointed with their final delivery. It was that, coupled with Bayern’s failure to cope with Atlético’s high-intensity start that cost Bayern a result in Madrid.
At home, they will have to be more efficient in the final third while also standing up to the pressure in midfield. Bayern certainly have the attacking options and quality to get the goal they need, however as they push men forward they may be caught with an away goal that sends Atlético through.
Predicted score: Bayern Munich 2-1 Atletico Madrid (Atletico to progress on away goals)