Bayern Munich vs Juventus: A midfield battle
Friday, the 15th of March, was the first time since the 1995/96 season that an English team failed to place itself in the UEFA Champions League quarter final draw as Arsenal and Manchester United were beaten by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively. However, the quarter-final draw still managed to produce four enticing and mouth-watering fixtures. Borussia Dortmund will arguably be the happiest of the eight quarter finalists as they face Malaga – the surprise package of this season’s campaign. Real Madrid will have to be at their best to qualify as they face a resilient Galatasaray side with a certain Didier Drogba in their ranks. Big spending PSG will face the ultimate test when they host a rejuvenated Barcelona side, fresh from their 4-0 thrashing of AC Milan. The last tie sees last season’s finalists Bayern Munich square off against an undefeated Juventus side in what looks to be the most riveting contest of the round.
Juventus and Munich had contrasting fortunes in their round of sixteen second leg fixtures as the latter slumped to a 2-0 home defeat against Arsenal (however they progressed on the away goals rule), while Juventus breezed past a helpless Celtic side in Turin. Both teams will need to produce an almost perfect performance over the two legs to progress and the winner of this tie seems the most likely to prevent a Spanish side from winning the Champions League. The two sides possess solid defenses and mesmerizing attacking talent with the likes of Vucinic, Matri and Giovinco for Juve and Muller, Kroos and Mandzukic for the Germans. However, this tie is going to be won and lost in midfield and a superior performance in the middle of the park over the two legs will ultimately lead to a berth in the semi-finals.
The Italian side have their midfield trio of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo to thank for their undefeated European campaign. The industrious nature of Marchisio and Vidal enable them to form the engine while Pirlo pulls the strings from deep with his slick passing and clever movement. The Juventus back three have had it relatively easy so far and that’s down to the tireless work in front of them by the midfield. Their constant pressure on the ball restricts their opponents to not more than two touches, ultimately forcing them into a mistake. Vucinic, Matri and Quagliarella have shared the goals amongst themselves while Marchisio and Vidal have chipped in as well. Their link up play with the front men has been eye catching at times with their perfectly timed Lampard-esque runs towards the edge of the box as well as beyond the strikers.
Bayern Munich have their own midfield to show off with Spaniard Javi Martinez adding some much needed steel to the German side. His performances along side Bastian Schweinsteiger have not gone unnoticed and have allowed the German maestro more freedom in attack. The two midfielders sit right in front of a flat back four and provide support for Bayern’s attack. Munich have been allowed to play their quick counter-attacking style of football because of the security provided by Martinez, Schweinsteiger or even Gustavo. Javi Martinez is also an attacking threat from set pieces while Schweinsteiger strikes a dead ball sweeter than most.
Bayern Munich’s defeat at the hands of Arsenal was down to complacency and this is unlikely to happen again in the quarter finals. They will need to produce a top level performance at home in the first leg as taking an advantage to Italy is crucial and this will only happen if Martinez and Schweinstieger can supply the likes of Kroos, Gomez and Mandzukic. However, Juventus will be no push overs and it will be almost impossible to breakdown their resilient midfield that provide protection for the back three. The ‘Old Lady’ will pose an equally likely attacking threat, with Pirlo being the mastermind behind it all. The team that progresses will be the team that wins the midfield battle and while Bayern might start as favourites, it would be foolish to write Juventus off.