A closer look at Bayern Munich's likely opponent in the Club World Cup Final: Atlético Mineiro

Buda Mendes

With the Club World Cup underway, Bavarian Football Works takes a closer look at Bayern Munich's likely opponent in the final, Atlético Mineiro.

Hello, everyone. Today Bavarian Football Works has a treat for you. With the Bayern's participation in the Club World Cup beginning on Tuesday, we wanted to find someone that knew a lot more about Atlético Mineiro and Brazilian football in general to speak about Bayern's likely opponent in the CWC Final. As luck would have it, we were approached by that very person.

I'm Igor Bravo, a passionate football fan like almost every Brazilian. Had the luck to be introduced to FC Bayern and the German National Team just when I was learning to really enjoy football and my love for both teams probably has been the most important aspect of my personal life since then.

The competition

That South American fans take the Club World Cup far more seriously than their European counterparts is beyond question. For most of them, watching their team face European champions is something that happens once in a lifetime. There isn't a single reason behind this difference of approach and a proper discussion on the subject lays beyond the scope of this analysis. Just bear in mind that our main threat, Atletico have been looking forward to the Club World Cup for the past six months. The football season in Brazil was pretty much over for them in early December, and by the time they arrived in Morocco, Bayern were still focused on their Champions League home match against Manchester City. Thousands of fans were at the airport to wish Atletico players good luck on their trip, treated in Brazil as some sort of Crusade for the Holy Grail.

Over the decades, the competition itself has changed a lot. Back in the 1960s, it was just an arrangement between UEFA and CONMEBOL to promote a two-leg final between European and South American champions. However, violence in Uruguay and Argentina led to frequent refusals by European champions to travel to South America. Bayern, for example, refused to face Independiente (ARG) in 1974 and 1975. Only in 1976, they joined the Intercontinental Cup to beat Cruzeiro (BRA) and claim the title. In 1980, Toyota took over the tournament and turned it into a single final played in Japan, solving the safety problems and granting the existence of such a competition for the next two decades. In 2000, FIFA decided to host an event of its own, featuring continental champions from six federations. In that year, Boca Juniors (ARG) claimed the Intercontinental Cup and Corinthians (BRA) won the FIFA tournament. In 2005, the FIFA Club World Cup in its current format established itself as the only competition between clubs from multiple confederations.

In a squad full of experienced players, it's awkward to notice that few of our players have any previous experience in this kind of competition. Pizarro played our 2001 clash against Boca Juniors, Guardiola was Barcelona's manager in 2009 and 2011, when they beat Estudiantes (ARG) and Santos (BRA). Thiago took part on the latter encounter. From the staff, Doc. Müller-Wohlfahrt was in Japan in 2001 and the sacred triad Hoeness-Kalle-Beckenbauer were first squad players back in our 1976 matches against Cruzeiro (BRA).

The 2013 opponents

For Bayern, the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup is a two-match competition. On December 17th, in Agadir, the European champions will face either Al-Ahly, from Egypt, or Guangzhou Evergrande, from China. The Chinese side has a few known rosters, like the Argentinean midfielder Dario Conca and the Italian manager Marcello Lippi. Lippi won the Intercontinental Cup in 1996 with Juventus. Both the final and the third place match take place four days later (December, 21th) in Marrakesh. The weather in Morocco isn't much different from what Bayern players already find in Germany. The temperatures in Marrakesh range from 5-20ºC in December.

Should we make it to the final, our most likely opponent will be Copa Libertadores' champions Atletico, from Brazil. Therefore, we shall focus on them next. They're remarkably similar to Schalke 04 in many aspects. Their last great achievement before lifting the Copa Libertadores for the first time in 2013 was winning their domestic league in 1971. For four decades, Atletico built themselves a reputation of great fans not particularly used to lifting trophies, but it doesn't make them less of an opponent in the Club World Cup, to be brutally honest. Their players know it's an once in a lifetime opportunity for Atletico and its fans, so we should expect a lot of effort from them on the pitch.

Their squad plays the classic 4-2-3-1 we are used to see in Europe, with a pair of defensive midfielders, two fast wingers, a centralized playmaker and a strong, tall striker. Their high pressing style makes them similar to Dortmund, although at a much lower level of efficiency and tactical sophistication. In fact, Atletico fans have a soft spot for the European runners-up. In 1997, Dortmund claimed the Intercontinental Cup after beating Cruzeiro, their local rivals. Since them, it's easy to find those yellow shirts around here, which is one more reason for us to beat the crap out of them on the pitch, but I digress.

Back to the team, Victor is an excellent goalkeeper, used to great saves that certainly had a part in the club's recent success. Leonardo and Réver are a good pair of center backs, very threatening at set pieces but also particularly mistake-prone under pressure. They may remind Bayern fans of Lucio at his best. Their fullbacks are their weak spot. Marcos Rocha on the right and Júnior César on the left may be consistent offensively, but lack the defensive focus and sense of positioning needed to stop a fast passing team. They're used to Atletico's offensive style and may have problems playing the mostly defensive role expected from them against a team like Bayern.

Although not particularly brilliant, Josué played for Wolfsburg and is pretty familiar with German football. He's joined by Pierre in the defensive midfield. Both players are a bit reckless and are probably gonna struggle to cope with Bayern's possession football. They're not as good as Gustavo, but share both his relentlessness and lack of passing skills. Their central attacking role is played by Ronaldinho, former Barcelona player and Ballon D'Or winner. He spent the last months recovering from an injury and seems to be almost 100% fit for the competition.

Fernandinho and Tardelli do the work on the wings. They're both fast players with good finishing skills. Although Atletico is used to press high up the pitch, they're better with the ball than without it. They're gonna be a main concern for Rafinha (or Lahm) and Alaba, but usually leave a lot of space for opponents to counterattack. Last but not least, there's the striker. Jô may remind Bayern fans of a Mario Gomez without the German's deadly positioning. Should Atletico hold back and try to grab a goal on counterattacks, Jô is not exactly the best player to have around and may pose as a threat mainly on set pieces. He's a Brazilian national team player, but it says more about the current state of affairs at the NT than about his skills.

Only two players from their current squad have experience in this kind of competition. Josué played for São Paulo (BRA) when they beat Liverpool in 2005 and Alecsandro (reserve striker) played for Internacional (BRA) when they got knocked out by Mazembe before having the chance to face Internazionale in 2010. Although Atletico never played any kind of Club World Cup, they played several friendlies in Europe: in 1950, beating 1860 München (4:3), Hamburg (4:0) and Schalke 04 (3:1), drawing with Eintracht Braunschweig (3:3) and losing to Werder Bremen (1:3) and Rapid Vienna (0:3). It was a pretty significant feat for a Brazilian club back in the fifties, so they had a trophy made and claim to be "Campeões do Gelo" (Champions of the Ice), a feat they mention on the club's anthem.

Form in numbers

Taking into account domestic league and continental and domestic cups, both teams are going to the Club World Cup with 54 competitive matches played in 2013. Atletico played a few regional matches, but most Bayern players were called up for national team duty at least half a dozen times. It's fair to say that both teams had similar workloads this year. Both squads are almost equally tired, so this should be a minor issue in such a short-run competition.

With the Hamburg home match yet to be played, Bayern hold a record of 46 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses. Draws being the Bundesliga away matches against Dortmund (last season), Freiburg and Leverkusen, and the UEFA Supercup against Chelsea. The three losses were last season's Arsenal home leg and the recent Manchester City home match for the Champions League, and that atrocious performance in Dortmund for the DFL Supercup.

Atletico have a less brilliant record. Their road to the continental title had many tense moments, with two knockout stages being decided on away goals and a final won after a very emotional penalty shootout. On aggregate, they won 24 matches, drew 15 and lost 15. In 2013, Bayern scored 151 goals and conceded only 37 in 53 competitive matches (Bundesliga, Pokal, UCL and Supercups). Atletico scored 82 and conceded 62 in 54 matches (Brazilian League, Brazilian Cup and Libertadores Cup).

Final considerations

Bayern is a far better team than Atletico in many aspects of the game, but it doesn't mean it's gonna be an easy task. Atletico have been below their peak form lately, but are perfectly capable of showing a fast, creative attacking football. It's a single match final and this is the most unpredictable sport there is, so we must use our best strategic pessimism here.

Unpredictability aside, we can expect Bayern to dictate how and where the game is going to be played. We're probably gonna have an insane amount of possession and they're gonna try to hold back and counterattack. Our wing play may pin down their fullbacks, so it's reasonable to expect them to use long balls to reach their wingers. Rafinha (or Lahm) and Alaba must take care not to give them much space to approach our box or try long shots. It's pretty much a one ball game for them, just like it was for São Paulo in 2005 and Internacional in 2006. In both opportunities, the Brazilians soaked up an insane amount of pressure, scored a goal in one of their only two shots on target and managed to grab 1:0 wins over Liverpool and Barcelona that granted them the Club World Cup.

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