After a flaccid performance in Ukraine, Bayern Munich head into this UEFA Champions League second leg against Shakhtar Donetsk in a predicament. They will have to walk a pretty thin tightrope, trying to force in the winning goals without conceding.
Since Bayern came up empty in Arena L'viv, Shakhtar possess the away goals rule advantage, one that Bayern has held the last two seasons. Only once before has Bayern not scored in the Round of 16 first leg, in 2012 against FC Basel 1893. The Rekordmeister returned to the Allianz with a bang in the second leg, bombarding goalkeeper Yann Sommer – now between the pipes for Borussia Mönchengladbach – with seven goals.
Bayern's recent Bundesliga form would suggest they have the firepower to turn up the heat again at home. Though their struggles against Eintracht Braunschweig in the cup were a bit unnerving a week ago, Bayern did eventually get the result they needed to advance in the DFB-Pokal. Nonetheless, the strong stand from the second-tier side will give hard-working Shakhtar some optimism as the Ukrainians try to advance to the quarterfinals for the second time in club history.
The Match (2nd Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: William Collum
FC Bayern: 2 W, 0 D, 0 L – 3 YC, 1 RC
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Shakhtar Donetsk (0-0) Bayern Munich | UEFA Champions League (Arena L'viv)
Round of 16 First Leg
Round of 16 First Leg
UEFA Champions League: 0 W, 1 D, 0 L
The first leg was curious to say the least, Pep Guardiola only using one center back against one of the highest scoring teams in the Champions League. Bayern had trouble building up the play, and could not find the target when they got into scoring positions. One would expect the diligent gaffer to go back to the drawing board, but how many changes should he really make?
Shakhtar are not a different team than the one he scouted for the match three weeks ago, built from the outside in and unable to keep the ball. With two centrally-focused attackers, Bayern still really only need to keep three at the back in order to outnumber them in defense. In fact, had Medhi Benatia been fit for the match, he probably would have lined up with David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng, not very different than the way Bayern eventually lined up in the first leg.
Putting three at the back when Bayern cannot concede a goal is a gamble to say the least, but recognizing their home form is important. Bayern have conceded just three goals in 16 in Allianz Arena this season, and Guardiola's strategical placement of ball-winning players has allowed Bayern to enjoy possession success and relentless pressure rarely seen on a football pitch.
Having appeared on the team sheet at the weekend, watching Holger Badstuber and Dante play at the weekend, Benatia could make his return in the second leg. One can apply a similar paradigm to Robert Lewandowski, left out of the first leg but given a chance to rest at the weekend presumably to come in for Thomas Müller. If the weekend is any indication for Wednesday's team sheet, Guardiola could easily deploy the tactics he had planned in the first leg.
Bayern have stepped up in such situations before, and they will need to again in order to avoid an embarrassing upset.
Projected Lineup (3-4-3 Diamond):
Franck Ribéry – Robert Lewandowski – Arjen Robben
Juan Bernat – Mario Götze – Bastian Schweinsteiger – Rafinha
David Alaba – Jérôme Boateng – Medhi Benatia
Bench: Pepe Reina, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Sebastian Rode, Mitchell Weiser, Thomas Müller, Claudio Pizarro
Out/Suspended: Xabi Alonso (red card), Javi Martínez (knee), Thiago Alcantara (knee)
Many times in the Champions League, teams change between one leg and the next, especially with fixtures spaced out three weeks apart. That has not happened to Shakhtar Donetsk, who have continued to flex their attacking muscle in Ukraine.
They returned to domestic competition with two consecutive clean sheets, overwhelming their opponents with relentlessness in the attacking third. Built from the outside in, Taison and Douglas Costa were key components of several of their goals, and their movement in the penalty area was clinical in the critical moments. In midfield, Fred has successfully supplanted Taras Stepanenko in the side, and he is able to use his fitness to run at opponents and try to win the ball.
This is a side that can get impatient though, as they were in both of their matches against FK Metalist Kharkiv. For a team whose finishing is not the best, they take a lot of shots outside from beyond 20 meters. This attribute may rear its head if they fall behind.
Mircea Lucescu will undoubtedly reign his side in when they take the Allianz Arena pitch, and Luiz Adriano and Alex Teixeira's ability to take advantage of the space could determine whether Shakhtar has more than a punchers chance to advance.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Taison – Alex Teixeira – Douglas Costa
Fernando – Fred
Vyacheslav Shevchuk – Yaroslav Rakitsky – Oleksandr Kucher – Darijo Srna
Bench: Anton Kanibolotsky, Ivan Ordets, Ismaily, Taras Stepanenko, Ilsinho, Bernard, Oleksandr Gladky
Out/Suspended: Vitali Vitsenets (knee)
Due to the distinct contrasts in approach, the match will be incredibly fun to watch. Shakhtar will undoubtedly start the game quick, but how long the can maintain pressure while constantly losing the ball will determine how soon Bayern's breakthrough eventually comes. Ribéry and Robben will have several opportunities to go at Shakhtar, and the space they create for themselves and others will eventually undo Shakhtar's valiant effort to defend.
Projected Score: Bayern Munich (2-0) Shakhtar Donetsk
The Other Action
UEFA Champions League
Real Madrid (2-0 Agg.) Schalke 04 (March 10, 3:45 PM ET)
FC Porto (1-1 Agg.) FC Basel 1893 (March 10, 3:45 PM ET)
Chelsea (1-1 Agg.) Paris Saint-Germain (March 11, 3:45 PM ET)
Atlético Madrid (0-1 Agg.) Bayer Leverkusen (March 17, 3:45 PM ET)
Monaco (3-1 Agg.) Arsenal (March 17, 3:45 PM ET)
Borussia Dortmund (1-2 Agg.) Juventus (March 18, 3:45 PM ET)
Barcelona (2-0 Agg.) Manchester City (March 18, 3:45 PM ET)