Group F of the UEFA Champions League kicks off on Wednesday as German powerhouse Bayern Munich tangle with Valencia. These two sides are expected to advance past the group stage, so an early positive result is vital to both squads.
Bayern have been off to a roaring start in the Bundasliga, winning their first three matches by a combined score of 12-2. Die Roten have played attractive, attacking football, that has delighted supporters and neutrals. With last year’s heartbreaking loss in the Champions League Final still on their minds, Bayern have been motivated to redeem themselves this season.
Bayern likes to use a 4-2-3-1 formation and are masterful in this formation. Mario Gomez will not play due to ankle surgery and is unsure when he will be in the lineup. His replacement, Mario Mandzukic has been more than adequate. He’s been brilliant. The Croatian International has found the back of the net three times in three games. A robust forward with a touch of finesse, Mandzukic has been a welcome addition for Bayern, as he came over from Wolfsburg via transfer.
Bayern have been aided by a rejuvenated Thomas Muller. The German International also has three goals this season, and has been much better after a disappointing 2011-12 season. Muller is versatile, as he can be an attacking midfielder, or move up to striker or winger, depending on the situation.
Franck Ribery has only been in one match so far this season, as he has battled a muscle strain in the early part of the season. Ribery missed Bayern’s match over the weekend, but came through training unscathed on Monday. The Frenchman is optimistic he will be on the sheet by kickoff.
Arjen Robben’s status is uncertain, as the Dutch International is suffering from lower back issues. Robben also missed the weekend fixture and is uncertain he can play on Wednesday. There is hope though as Robben did proclaim his recovery is looking good and he will be fit for action shortly. If one or both cannot go, expect Swiss International Xherdan Shaqiri to fill the void. Shaqiri was sensational for FC Basel last season, and he provides depth and quality in the Bayern midfield.
Holding midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos are as good as it gets. On top of that, Brazilian International Luiz Gustavo is a premier defensive midfielder in his own right. Bayern can lock up the centre of the pitch with this group, plus move forward to attacking spots, leaving the opposition overwhelmed.
The back four is led by the venerable Philipp Lahm. Considered to be the best right back in the world, Lahm can switch sides and play left back if need be. Expect Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Dante to be on the team sheet as defenders.
Manuel Neuer emerged as one of the top keepers in the world last season. Neuer is being compared to the legendary Oliver Khan, and while that is a stretch at this point, Neuer is confident he can achieve that lofty status.
By contrast, Valencia are off to a slow start in La Liga, winning only once in four matches. Los Che have struggled to keep the ball out of their net, as they have conceded a goal in every match so far this season.
Valencia will need sturdier defending from the back four if they have any chance of defeating Bayern. Right back Joao Pereira was excellent for Portugal at Euro 2012, but has laboured in the early part of the season for Valencia. Pereira will be focused on the recharged Thomas Muller and it is vital that Pereira doesn’t concede space to Muller. Ady Rami, Victor Cruz and Jeremy Mathieu will most likely complete the back, but their form will have to be at a higher standard, than what they have shown so far.
The midfield won’t have it easy either. Since Valencia likes to use a 4-2-3-1, they may play right into Bayern’s hands. The Argentine duo of Tino Costa and Fernando Gago will be pushed to the limit, in trying to contain Bayern’s formidable attack.
The attacking midfield is pretty solid, as Sofiane Feghouli and Jonas are a proficient duo. Feghouli is more adept as a creative midfielder, so expect him to sit back a bit against Bayern. Jonas likes to push forward, but will have to be disciplined with the timing of his runs.
Striker Roberto Soldado two goals, shares the club lead with Feghouli. Soldado will need to find space against a stringent Bayern defence, which is much easier said than done. Soldado is somewhat slight and he is liable to be pushed around by brawny defenders. He must overcome this obstacle for Valencia to have any hope.
Keeper Diego Alves has had problems keeping the ball out of the net. With zero clean sheets to his name so far this season, Alves is vulnerable to an awesome Bayern attack.
This belongs to Bayern. Die Roten are quite possibly the best team in this competition save for Barcelona. Even with the fitness concerns of Ribery and Robben, Bayern have more than enough depth to overcome those issues. A solid win for Bayern 3-0 at the Allianz.
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