Match Week 2 of the 2012-2013 UEFA Champions League Group Stage. Bayern has won 9 straight across all competitions, and would probably be feeling confident after this weekend's victory over Werder Bremen if they hadn't been harshly criticized by Sporting Director Matthias Sammer afterwards. BATE, winners of 6 straight Belarusian League titles, will be relying on home-field advantage in trying to take some points from the match. A win for either side gives that side command of the group.
Arjen Robben has been left behind, not even making the trip. His thigh-muscle problem is acting up, and anyway Shaqiri and Müller can both play the RW position well. It seems that Alaba is not ready yet, so our back line of Badstuber - Dante - Boateng - Lahm will probably get the call again. It's conceivable that Daniel van Buyten or Tymoschuk would play at one of those CB spots, but that would be a weird wrinkle for Heynckes to throw in for a match like this.
Ribery - Müller - Shaqiri
Martinez - Schweinsteiger
Badstuber - Dante - Boateng - Lahm
Not a lot of surprises there, except the lack of Kroos. Nothing against Kroos, but he was a little anonymous in the most recent match and he hasn't had much rest (even in the win over VfL, when he didn't start, he came off the bench). And, anyway, someone has to sit.
First of all, I had no idea how far away this place is. It's actually in the northeast portion of Belarus, meaning it's further from Munich than Bucharest, Kiev, or Barcelona. Luckily, the weather isn't that terrible yet, and a bunch of Bayern fans were even said to have greeted the club at the hotel.
Alyaksander Hleb is the home-grown star of BATE, a Belarusian who starred at Stuttgart and Arsenal and even got a chance to play with Barca before returning home. He's a little older now, and doesn't have a ton of speed, but his ball skills and passing accuracy are still there. Also, Hleb played under both Magath and Sammer while at Stuttgart, and has plenty of big game experience.
Another Alyaksander is also worth keeping an eye on, though: Volodko, a Polish-born middie (with Belarusian citizenship) who can play either as a DM or a wing. He had a goal and an assist in BATE's surprising 3-1 road win over Lille last time out (I didn't get a chance to watch the match - supposedly the win was deserved, though the 3-1 score-line was possibly a little flattering, considering BATE only had 45 percent of the possession and only took 6 shots all game).
They appear to use a 4-4-2, but with the middle 4 arranged in a diamond formation rather than the 2 CDMs and 2 wings. Hleb is the front point of that midfield diamond, and when he pushes forward, it plays almost like a 4-1-2-3. When their playing all defensive (which ... I mean, let's be honest), the 2 sides of the midfield diamond drop back and it looks more like a 4-3-1-2 or even a choked-back 4-3-3. They're certainly nothing we can't handle, but they will try to catch us on the break going the other way. And as they showed Lille, if they can grab one quick goal and then make you do all the work, they can frustrate you.
Elsewhere in the Competition
Big matches this round:
- Valencia vs. Lille: Huge. Valencia would love a win, but even a draw would still leave them with hope (because they have 2 straight against BATE after this). Lille is up against it, though: they're on the road and badly need a win. Even a draw doesn't do much for them, because they'd go into back-to-back matches against Bayern with only a single point.
- Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund: I can't wait. Almost as exciting as the Bayern match. If you're a betting man or woman, you can get an even money wager on BVB to win OR draw.
- Juventus vs. Shakhtar D: could be interesting - Shahkhtar got to the Round of 8 a few years ago and have a few talented guys (Croatia's Eduardo and Dario Srna, Brazilian Luiz Adriano).
- Zenit vs. AC Milan: they both suck, but I guess you could call this a "possible upset."
Other than that, not a ton of action or unpredictability this round. Barca and Man U have easy passes to the Rd of 16 (of course), and don't try to fool yourself into thinking that Ajax has a shot at beating Real.
- We really need the time-convertor this time, with Bayern in a new time zone:
Convert time zones with worldtimebuddy.com
Click on the AM/PM button to get the match in your current local time. It starts at the usual time for me (2:45 PM Eastern), but in local (Minsk/Borisov) time, the start is an hour late. It will certainly be dark.
- From the FanPost section, Grudnik points out that Fox Soccer is not showing Bayern (except to the subscribers who order the pub package and get all 8 matches at once). He also points out how we can raise a ruckus with respect to this ongoing problem. Please take a minute to check it out.
- The SF Chronicle has an article previewing the match and also discussing the Sammer comments from Saturday night. They also point out that BATE is coming off a 5-1 win and haven't played since Friday, so they should be fresh.
- Jupp Heynckes says that Gomez's recovery is "more complicated" than originally thought, and that we have no timetable for his return. Mandzukic has been playing well, but with Alaba, Gomez, and Contento still on the shelf, it would be good to hear some positive news sometime soon. Thanks for reading.