Juventus
    Juventus
      22.02.2016 14:00 - in: Champions League S

      The view from Bavaria

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      Ahead of Tuesday night’s match, Juventus.com receives German football writer Mark Lovell's insights on Guardiola, team tactics, defensive line-ups and much more

      German football writer and ESPN Bayern Munich correspondent Mark Lovell provides Juventus.com with the full lowdown on tomorrow’s visitors to Juventus Stadium.

      JFC: What has been the response in the dressing room and on the pitch to the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s summer departure?

      ML: Skipper Philipp Lahm led the calls urging the much sought-after Guardiola to remain in Bavaria beyond this summer – to no avail. Nevertheless, Bayern have suffered no adverse effects on the pitch and are unbeaten since Guardiola made his intentions known. Treble-seeking Bayern are safely into the German Cup semi-finals and sit pretty atop the Bundesliga, eight points ahead of nearest challengers Borussia Dortmund, and on course for a historic fourth league title on the trot.

      There is a similarity to the 2012/13 season, when Bayern won the treble (including the “Holy Grail” of the Champions League) after it was announced that Guardiola would replace stalwart Jupp Heynckes at the end of that season. This time around, the Bavarian giants will hope Pep’s announcement can provide the additional intensity, motivation and concentration (like under Heynckes) to deliver a happy end for the Catalan.

      And, in Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern have already lined up a decent successor…

      JFC: To what extent will Guardiola’s time at Bayern be defined by the current Champions League campaign?

      ML: In all likelihood, Guardiola will leave Bavaria with three straight Bundesliga titles. His side continues to dominate the league in similar fashion to Juve in Serie A in recent years. However, Guardiola is judged by impossibly high standards on account of his trophied managerial career. Naturally, his legacy at Bayern will be slightly tarnished by CL failure, even more so if the unthinkable happens and Bayern exit at this premature stage to Juventus. Guardiola’s teams (Barcelona and Bayern) have always reached at least the last four of Europe’s elite competition so it would be unwise to write off their chances.

      JFC: Should Bayern’s defensive worries be defined as a ‘crisis’?

      ML: No. I’m probably in a minority, but it would only be a real problem if the likes of Manuel Neuer and/or Robert Lewandowski succumbed to injury. At the time of the draw, with all due respect to Juve, Bayern would expect to progress with something to spare. Now, with the injury woes at the back, it’s more of an even contest. However, Bayern can rely on Pep conjuring up a plan for “The Old Lady”. It could serve to relieve some pressure on his team and concentrate their minds. Expect Guardiola to place more emphasis on playing to his team’s strengths and using his attacking weapons, rather than worrying about who’s not available at the back.

      JFC: Who will be missed most and why?

      ML: That’s the easiest question of the lot. Jerome Boateng’s presence will be sorely missed as Bayern’s defensive rock and leader at the back. The record German champions will hope to be still in the competition when he returns in April.

      JFC: Who is ready to step in for such an important tie?

      ML: Uncapped German midfielder Joshua Kimmich has impressed considerably as an emergency centre-half since Bayern suffered the blow of losing Boateng, followed in quick succession by Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber. Given that the 21-year-old is playing out of position, Kimmich has thrived on the challenge, putting in a series of brilliant performances beyond his years. However, the visit to “The Old Lady” is a step up in class and will obviously be his sternest test, especially if Mario Mandzukic recovers from injury.

      Who Kimmich will partner is still a mystery. Emergency loan signing Serdar Tasci arrived at the last minute to cover all eventualities, but failed his weekend Bundesliga audition against Darmstadt. Former Roma central defender Medhi Benatia is fit again but didn’t make the squad. The most likely option is Kimmich paired with the versatile Austrian David Alaba, with Lahm and the Spaniard Juan Bernat as full-backs.

      JFC: When Bayern and Juventus last met in 2013, wide forwards Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were key to the way Bayern attacked. Would it be fair to say that the onus has now shifted far more to the middle, with the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller now the obvious go-to men?

      ML: No. As is well known, Guardiola’s style is based on possession, but when the Bavarian machinery is really clicking through the gears, the danger still comes predominantly from wide areas. 11 of Bayern’s record 19 goals in the group stages came from the wings. Bayern shrugged off their reliance on Ribery and Robben and easily coped with their injury-enforced absences. Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman proved more than just capable understudies. Obviously Lewandowski (7 goals) and Muller (5) receive all the plaudits for putting the ball in the back of the net, but it’s the tricky and inventive wide men that provide the ammunition for Bayern’s clinical frontmen. By the way, Lewandowski’s seven goal tally is one more than Juve managed in the whole of the group stages, albeit in a much tougher group.

      JFC: Is there anything that Juventus can learn from Bayern’s two defeats all season against Arsenal in October and Borussia Monchengladbach in December?

      ML: Yes. Bayern still have a soft underbelly and remain vulnerable against the express counter attack. Bayern don’t concede many but, when they do, they often come (like London buses) in rapid succession. The 3-1 defeat to Gladbach was a perfect example, while Barca also exposed this fallibility with a late three-goal salvo in the semis last term. Bayern are not great travellers in the competition under Guardiola, losing four of their last seven away games, with defeats against Porto, Barcelona and Arsenal in 2015.

      JFC: What do Juventus need to do to replicate those results?

      ML: Juve will need to keep the game tight, defend for their lives and hit Bayern with rapier-like attacking thrusts. Bayern will also be susceptible against corners and set plays, depending on which “vertically challenged” defenders are available at the back. The likes of Mario Mandzukic are more than capable of exposing any lack of height. We can expect Juve, even on their own patch, to hand over a lot of possession, perhaps like in the recent home game against Napoli.

      JFC: What was the reaction to the last 16 draw in Munich? What do German fans or Bayern expect to see from Juventus?

      ML: Buoyant after a record-breaking group stage campaign (15 points, 19 goals scored, 3 conceded), Bayern fans would have been quietly confident of progressing against a Juventus side they have beaten fairly comfortably in four of their last six meetings (unbeaten since 2005). Barring PSG, Juventus are the hardest opponent Bayern could have drawn in the last 16. However, after Bayern’s recent injury woes and Juve’s impressive 15 wins in a row in Serie A, there’s more trepidation. We all expect two hard fought-ties against a well-schooled Juve side, which reached the final last year. Don’t forget Juventus have their own defensive worries, which Bayern will look to exploit. There’s also a more than healthy respect for Italian football, given Germany’s defeats to Italy at the 2006 World Cup and, more recently, at Euro 2012, courtesy of a certain Mario Balotelli brace.

      JFC: Who do German fans or Bayern identify as Juventus’ key players and why?

      ML: Mario Mandzukic will have been singled out for attention, having scored for Bayern in Turin back in April 2013. The Croatian is robust, strong in the air and will provide a prickly challenge for Bayern’s makeshift central defence. He fell out with coach Guardiola during the end of the Catalan’s debut season in Bavaria and, to put it mildly, will be keen to put one over his old boss. He’ll clearly be a real threat (if fit).

      Gianluigi Buffon is a legend of the game and this mouth-watering tie is also a match-up between two of the best goalkeepers in the world. Sami Khedira, formerly of VfB Stuttgart, will be keen to impress against a few team-mates from Germany’s World Cup winning squad.

      Predicted starting XI: Neuer; Lahm, Kimmich, Alaba, Bernat; Alonso; Costa, Thiago, Robben; Muller; Lewandowski

      First-leg score prediction: 1-0 Bayern

      Aggregate score prediction: 3-1 Bayern

      Mark Lovell

      @LovellLowdown 

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