The draw for the Champions League Round of 16 produced several mouth-watering matchups. Arguably, none, though, have the same allure of Bayern Munich facing off with Juventus. It is a draw that neither side will be exactly enthused about, pitting, as it does, German champions Bayern, with four successive Champions League semifinal appearances, against last season’s beaten finalists, Juventus. The last time they met, Bayern outclassed Juventus in a 4-0 aggregate win in the 2012 quarterfinals, but both teams have changed considerably since then.
Here are four things to watch for in the heavyweight matchup:
Juventus continuing to improve
After coming so close to the treble last season, this campaign started in less than impressive fashion for the Turin side. Having won just one of their first six Serie A matches, many were already predicting a season of significant regression for a team that had won the last four Italian titles. But such early difficulties should hardly have been unexpected. Over the summer, Juventus underwent a significant overhaul, letting go of key trio Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, while retooling around younger talent. And it should also not be surprising that the side is now finding its feet. Juventus have win six league matches on the bounce, and now find themselves just six points off the top of Serie A. With young Argentine striker Paulo Dybala, in particular, starting to flourish, there is every reason to think Juventus will be in even better shape when the matchup with Bayern Munich rolls around next February.
Will Vidal and Coman return to haunt Juventus?
One of the influential players Juventus let go in the summer will be making an early return to Turin, with Vidal now ensconced in Bayern Munich’s ranks. The Chilean offers a dynamism to Bayern’s midfield that has often been lacking amid the whirl of short passing. But while Vidal’s transfer grabbed the headlines, another deal involving Juventus and Bayern could prove to be just as significant. Kingsley Coman started just six league matches in his only season with Juventus before the French teenager was allowed to leave on a two-year loan to Bayern Munich with an option to make the move permanent. Already it seems inevitable that he will be staying with the Bundesliga giants. The electric winger has made 15 appearances for Bayern, scoring four times and adding six assists. Both he and Vidal could do serious damage to their former employers.
Can Allegri mastermind another upset
There was not a lot of love around for Massimiliano Allegri when he was hired following the sudden departure of fan-favorite Antonio Conte in the summer of 2014. Just a few months earlier he had been sacked by AC Milan, having become the target of their fans’ frustrations. But Milan’s continued struggles since have shown that their issues are far more deep-rooted than simply a change of manager can fix. And Allegri’s achievements at Juventus have proven him a fine coach. His greatest feats came in last season’s Champions League knockout phase, when he got his tactics spot on to navigate a path through Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and, most impressively, Real Madrid. In that run he showed he was extremely adept at countering the strengths of the opposition, and he will undoubtedly have a precise plan worked out to try and thwart Pep Guardiola’s supreme Bayern side.
Can Bayern avoid injuries and maintain early season form?
Bayern Munich produced some eye-catching displays in this Champions League group phase, scoring a joint-high 19 goals, including putting five past Arsenal. On that form, perhaps only Barcelona could prevent them from winning a sixth European Cup in Milan next May. But we have been here before with the Bavarians. In the past two seasons, they produced their best performances of the season in the group phase before they tailed off when the truly decisive matches arrived in the spring, losing heavily in the Champions League semifinals, and being given a major scare by Porto in last season’s quarterfinal.
A big part of that let down has been due to fitness. That was especially true in the defeat to Barcelona last season when Guardiola was without both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. He will be desperately hoping he has a clear bill of health when the crucial weeks of this season arrive. But even if there are fitness concerns, Bayern appear better able to cope this time around. Not only has Coman’s arrival offered an alternative to the increasingly injury-prone Robben and Ribery, but so too has the impact made by Douglas Costa. The dynamic Brazilian has been one of the revelations of the season and could be a decisive factor against a Juventus defense that lacks pace.
First leg: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, at Juventus Stadium
Second leg: Wednesday, March 16, 2016, at the Allianz Arena