After coming back from the brink against Juventus, Bayern Munich will be seeking a more comfortable night when taking on Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday. Bayern trailed Juventus 4-2 on aggregate going into the final 18 minutes of their Round-of-16 series last month, leaving Pep Guardiola’s dream of exiting Bavaria with a Champions League title on the verge of disaster. But a stirring fight back saw them force extra time, before two more goals secured a thrilling triumph.
Avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the draw can be seen as a major relief, but Bayern have plenty of reason not to be complacent going into a duel with Lisbon giants Benfica. It was at the same quarterfinal stage a year ago that Bayern were defeated 3-1 at Porto in the first leg, before having to again show their resilience to win the second leg 6-1. And Guardiola has played down the suggestion that his side are strong favorites to progress to the last four this time around.
“I'm very, very impressed by Benfica,” he said in his pre-match press conference. I have great respect. Benfica are on a run, they're better than they've been for a long time. It's going to be a very tough challenge to advance to the semi-finals.
“Benfica defend very aggressively. Their back four are perhaps the best in Europe. They allow hardly any chances and have conceded only 14 goals in all competitions so far.”
Indeed, Bayern have reason to be wary beyond simply their memories of last season. Benfica have won 19 of their last 20 matches in all competitions, a run that has taken them to the top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga and into the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in four years after beating Zenit St Petersburg, 3-1.
However, Benfica have not gone beyond the last eight since they reached the final of the old European Cup in 1990. And coach Rui Vitoria is well aware of the challenge that awaits his team on Tuesday.
“In the Champions League we are just taking it one game at a time—that has got us this far,” he said. “We have no fears. We have analyzed our opponents and they are a strong team, but we will give our all to get a good result here in Munich.
“I would like to win the game—I want to win every game—but I know how difficult it will be. We have belief. We will play with enthusiasm, with spirit and desire. And we want to enjoy it. I want my team to have fun.”
Benfica will have to without goalkeeper Julio Cesar as well as defender Luisao. Bayern, meanwhile, who maintained their five point lead atop the Bundesliga with a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, will continue to miss winger Arjen Robben and defensive duo Jerome Boating and Holger Badstuber.
Prediction: This will be the first time in Guardiola’s time at Bayern that they will play the first leg of a Champions League tie at home. And that should make the team’s progress more serene. Even dating back to his time at Barcelona, Guardiola’s record in Europe is far stronger at home. And, despite Benfica’s recent superb form, they will face a massive step up in class on Tuesday.
Predicted score: Bayern Munich 3-1 Benfica
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 2, ESPN Deportes