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Preview: FC Bayern vs. Manchester City

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In Match 2 of Group A in the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League. Bayern comes off of an encouraging Bundesliga win on Saturday in which we squashed a respectable Leverkusen team, 3-0, and both Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben proved their fitness. Manchester City, meanwhile, defeated Everton 2-0 this weekend. City had a bit of trouble getting the offense untracked, and didn’t look like a team with a total wage bill of £ 500 trillion (or whatever). Nonetheless, they are undefeated in all competitions since the Premier League season began, with draws vs. Fulham and Napoli (their previous Champions League opponent) representing their only dropped points.

Champions League matches are always huge and carry great importance; however, I think most Bayern fans would agree that tomorrow’s match carries a bit of extra weight.  When the CL draw was undertaken back in August, reader “Oatbag” (my favorite disqus handle of all of the site’s regulars, by the way) put it this way: “in terms of MC, I think the entire FCB organization and fanbase owes new money a warm (brutal) welcome to the CL.”

Along with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man U, both Milan clubs, and arguably Liverpool, this is our competition.  Those seven clubs, assuming Liverpool eventually recovers, are always playing in this tournament.  We’ve all hoisted the trophy, we all usually get past the group stage, and we’re all generally a good bet to advance pretty deep into the knockout stage.  These clubs have made the Champions League into the world’s pre-eminent team sports competition, and all of us would owe a duty to each other to quiet the loud-mouthed new boys.  If City had been drawn in the same group as Barcelona (the biggest threat) or Inter (who Bayern fans have ample reason to hate), I would say Bayern supporters would still be rooting for one of the established clubs to teach these clowns a lesson.  Needless to say, watching them held to a draw vs. Napoli was pretty gratifying - not that I saw much of it. I was busy watching Bayern open up Villarreal.

The Line-Up

With Holger Badstuber doubtful, the back line is the only area where some questions remain.  Jupp Heynckes will likely go with the standard 4-2-3-1 - Neuer in goal, Lahm - van Buyten - Boateng - Rafinha on the back line, Schweinsteiger - Gustavo in the middle, with Ribery - Müller - Robben as the forward line and Gomez up top.  van Buyten has played well so far this season, but is still a little slow in the feet to leave us feeling really confident.  Against City’s offense, the CBs will definitely have their hands full.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see Gustavo paired with Boateng at the two CB spots and then Tymoschuk next to Bastian, but I think that’s a long shot.  If Badstuber really can’t go, I bet it’s van Buyten - Boateng in the back middle.

Up front, Bayern has the firepower to win a shootout with anyone.  Any concern that Robben would be rusty after a long layoff was allayed with Saturday’s game.  So if the match goes according to form, both offenses will be in good shape and both defenses will have a tough task.  It may fall to the midfield matchup to determine who is able to do what.

The Opponent

After spending freely over the past three years, Manchester City find themselves with more offensive stars than they know what to do with.  David Silva and Samir Nasri are their midfield / wing playmakers.  At the head of the formation, they started with Agüero and Dzeko this past weekend, but Mario Balotelli came off the bench to score the goal that broke the deadlock.  They generally run two of their strikers at a time, with two starting, a third coming off the bench at some point early in the second half, and the fourth (Tevez, this past weekend) the odd man out.  In their previous Champions League match, the two starting strikers were the same, but Tevez was the late sub and Balotelli failed to see any action.

Defensively, Vincent Kompany is, in my mind, one of the best defenders in the world.  Aside from him, through, City is only a little better than average.  Joleon Lescott is pretty good, but doesn’t have blazing speed, and Pablo Zabaleta has never impressed me.  If Bayern’s offense is able to control possession the way we have over the past few weeks, I think our front four have a good chance of scoring multiple goals.

Last year, I distinctly remember watching a Man City vs. Arsenal game in which City basically turtled up and played defensively the whole game, despite the presence of their numerous big money stars.  I’m not saying that will happen tomorrow, but I point that out just to note that it’s a possibility.  And if Man City scores first, they wouldn’t be too proud to pull nine guys back into the box and try to wait it out.  So, the first few minutes will be key.

Final Notes

This is how I feel:

The Match Day Thread will be up and running tomorrow, where we can discuss final formation / availability issues.  Thanks for reading.