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The Group Stage Battle after Round Two

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With fans still basking in Tuesday’s 2-0 beating of Manchester City, Bayern’s players and coaching staff are looking ahead to the next few weeks. We’re on the road vs. TSG Hoffenheim on Saturday, then an international break (Germany vs. Turkey and Belgium, France vs. Albania and Bos-Herz, Netherlands hopefully holding Robben out of games vs. Moldova and Sweden), then at home vs. Hertha Berlin, all before our next Champions League match. So, for now, the players and staff are certainly worried about these fixtures and not focused too much on the lay of the land in the Champions League.

But fans have no such responsibility. I’ve spend the last two days running over various Champions League permutations in my head, so I thought I’d throw them down here for all to see. As always, if you see an error or have an answer to a question posited by me, leave it in the comments or email me at bayern.offside@yahoo.com.

The State of Group A

First, let me say this: in any sporting capacity, it’s bad mojo to assume that your team has already won or to take victory / advancing / results for granted.  So, let me say that Bayern’s passage is NOT assured, and any talk about the knockout stage should be treated as “IF Bayern is able to advance.”

Having said that, things are looking pretty positive right now.  Let’s go team-by-team.

FC BAYERN

A perfect 6 points from 2 games, with a solid +4 goal differential and a pretty decisive victory over the club that was thought to be the biggest threat.  In my estimation, Bayern hasn’t even played that great in the first two matches (looking underwhelming for long stretches of time vs. Villarreal, failing to seize control of the Man City match until about 25 minutes in), and yet we still seem to be the best squad in the best group.  We now have two straight vs. a Napoli club that, while certainly dangerous and not to be taken lightly, would probably be happy to take any points off of us at all.

We need to keep up the intensity and finish strong, no doubt, but so far midweek play has been a lot of fun.

SSC NAPOLI

Wikipedia says that Goran Pandev is playing with Napoli, on loan from Inter.  Did everyone already know that?  What else is going on in Italy that I need to be apprised of?  And how could Inter feel so confident in their forwards that they let Pandev out on loan?  I understand they got Forlan, but still - they recently started Luc Castaignos in a Serie A game, who’s a strong and talented kid, but … better than Pandev?  Who’s scored over 50 goals in Serie A and (as we know) several big ones in Europe?  I assume there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

Anyway.  Napoli is a dangerous club that has an especially good home-field advantage.  Edinson Cavani could present problems for our back line, along with Pandev.  They also have, like, five or six of those Argentine-with-Italian-grandparents types who seem to be everywhere now (like Diego Milito or Manu Ginobili).  The club sits on 4 points after two matches.  If they manage to pick up any points from their two straight matches vs. Bayern, they’re in a great position to advance from the group.  But if they lose both games, they’re right back to fighting for their lives.  Either way, the November 22 match vs. Manchester City at the Stadio San Paolo looms large.

MANCHESTER CITY

Pretty gratifying to watch these clowns self-destruct, no?  Tevez is getting all the attention, but Dezko also threw his toys out of the pram when he was substituted in the second half (learned that very useful phrase on one of the English football blogs Tuesday night, by the way.  Can’t wait to spring that one the wife.  I’ll let you know how it goes over).  The club is clearly beset by locker room problems, in addition to sitting on a single point and a -2 goal differential after a pair of matches.  Even their next match is no easy win: playing vs. a Villarreal club that should finally be at full strength, and coming only a few days before their trip to Old Trafford in the Premier League.

Nonetheless, I’m not ready to write these guys off yet.  Between Kun, Dzeko, Balotelli, Silva, and Nasri, they have enough at the forward and midfield levels to score goals in bunches.  There’s still a solid chance they sneak into the knockout stage, and if they get there, they won’t be an easy out.

VILLARREAL

Of course, nothing’s decided yet, but Villarreal are starting to look like one of those fairly decent clubs that just got unlucky in the group draw.  They have two straight vs. a wounded-but-still-dangerous Manchester City side.  And, if they actually pick up a win or two to pull themselves back into contention, they travel to the Allianz late in November.  They ain’t lookin’ too hot in Spain, either, with just 1 win and 5 goals scored in 5 matches.

Elsewhere Around the Champions League

Just some quick and probably inaccurate impressions:

- Barcelona is still good

- Real Madrid is still good

- Manchester United is playing like garbage, but will probably still advance from a weak group

- Dortmund has been very disappointing, but their next two are vs. Olympiakos, so anything could happen

- Group G just completely sucks and doesn’t have anyone good.  It’s very possible that the Round of 16 will include a match between Basel and Apoel Nicosia, meaning one of those two teams would advance to the quarterfinals.  The quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, just so we’re clear.  Is there any way Lazio or Spurs could get bumped up from the Europa League?

After the group stage, the winner of each group plays the runner-up from a different group.  If Bayern is able to finish on top in Group A (not saying it’s a sure thing, just “if”), then we theoretically would have a better chance to play a somewhat weaker team in the Round of 16.  So, as far as other rooting interests, two types of results would be good for Bayern:

(1) Other groups go completely according to expectations, meaning the best clubs like Barcelona, Real, Man U, etc. continue to win big and win often, meaning we would probably get that theoretical easier matchup in the Round of 16; or

(2) Other groups go completely against expectations, with one of those other world-class clubs getting bounced entirely, in which case that’s one less world-class opponent to worry about in the Round of 16 or at any later point.

What we DON’T want is for a club like Barca, Real, Man U, or Chelsea to struggle at first and flirt with disaster, only to pull out a second-place finish and advance in December and then get drawn with us in the Round of 16.  Not that I think we have reason to be terrified of ANY team, but it’s always better to play a weaker club rather than a stronger one.

There’s also a school of thought that says tough match-ups are good, because it’s more fun and more honorable to beat better opponents, and because it prepares a team for later rounds.  And yes, I think there’s something to be said for that.  But even if it’s true, we got our “prove yourself by facing tough opponents” thing out of the way in the group stage.

Hoffenheim preview coming tomorrow.  Thanks for reading.