The cameras are on, the stage is set, and now starts the unnerving and exciting part of Bayern Munich's campaign. The Champions League quarterfinals is when the season turns for the home stretch. The Rekordmeister are still going strong, even if they are hobbling towards the finish.
Going into this tie against FC Porto, Bayern Munich are wrapped in a narrative of caution and confidence. They drew the best possible opponent in the quarterfinals, but many of their best players are not healthy to contribute in the two legs. They come into the matchup in the best form, but struggled to surpass Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen along the way.
Bayern manager Pep Guardiola has done his best to prepare his side for Europe's pinnacle competition. The club's trip to Porto could be a crucial Wendepunkt for the rest of the season, for a strong first leg performance could be the foothold to push Bayern closer to their campaign goals.
The Match (6th Meeting)
Location: Estadio do Dragão, Porto, Portugal
Head: Carlos Velasco Carballo
FC Bayern: 2 W, 1 D, 0 L – 9 YC, 1 Y/R
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FC Bayern: WWWLW
FC Porto: WWLDW
UEFA Champions League: 3 W, 1 D, 1 L
Largest Victory: 2-0 (March 20, 1991, Porto)
Largest Defeat: 1-2 (May 27, 1987, Vienna)
Yet another week where Bayern face a tough adversary, but their opponent this time around is of a different nature. Guardiola has to strategize for a type of opponent he has not faced in his time with Bayern, but it is an opponent who plays right into his wheelhouse.
Guardiola does not have his top players at his disposal, but that may not make a difference. He still has several matchup advantages all over the pitch, and the dynamism of such players like Philipp Lahm, Robert Lewandowski, and Thomas Müller will allow him to exploit several areas of the field.
With Porto playing with a front three that spreads the field, Bayern will surely return to a traditional back four, and Juan Bernat and Rafinha will not be able to meander forward like they have done in recent weeks. By the same token, a defensive onus no longer rests on players like Lahm and Xabi Alonso, allowing the two to have more of a prominent role in midfield. Add Thiago Alcantara into the mix and Bayern will have a similar midfield dominance that the team showed during parts of last season.
Not having Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben to run at players is not ideal, but Mario Götze and Thiago can emulate the veterans' success in running at players. Lewandowski has also shown how good he can be on his own, and he could really take Porto's average European defense to the cleaners.
Bayern have a terrific opportunity to finish this tie early, and health permitting, Guardiola has put them in a strong position to do seize it.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Mario Götze – Thiago Alcantara – Thomas Müller
Xabi Alonso – Philipp Lahm
Juan Bernat – Holger Badstuber – Jérôme Boateng – Rafinha
Bench: Pepe Reina, Dante, Sebastian Rode, Gianluca Gaudino, Sinan Kurt, Mitchell Weiser, Claudio Pizarro
Out/Suspended: David Alaba (knee), Mehdi Benatia (hamstring), Javi Martínez (knee), Frank Ribéry (ankle), Arjen Robben (abdomin), Bastian Schweinsteiger (ankle, illness)
The draws for FC Porto have paved their path to the Champions League quarterfinals, but that does not necessarily mean they do not belong. They have a young and exciting crop of players who are trying to break through on a global scale, and that type of team is never easy to go up against.
However, Julen Lopetegui has more limited resources than rounds past. Jackson Martínez has not been able to shake a calf problem, and electric Barcelona loan product Christian Tello will sit out with a muscle strain. Lopetegui has the personnel to fill those voids, but his side will be duller without these two cutting edge players.
Lopetegui will not disguise what his team will do on Wednesday, but with the success his club has had, he does not have to. He knows Porto are going to win based on the way his players perform, not the way he out-maneuvers one of the best managers in the world. His club will have to play deeper for sure, but having players like Yacine Brahimi and Ricardo Quaresma to stretch the play makes that tactical pill a little easier to swallow.
Porto are going to face a hurricane on Wednesday, and how well they are able to weather the storm will determine how much of a chance they have to advance.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3):
Yacine Brahimi – Vincent Aboubakar – Ricardo Quaresma
Óliver Torres – Casemiro – Hector Herrera
Alex Sandro – Bruno Martins-Indi – Maicon – Danilo
Bench: Helton, Diego Reyes, Ruben Neves, Evandro, Jackson Martínez Juan Quintero, Hernâni
Out/Suspended: Ivan Mercano (suspended), Christian Tello (muscle strain)
This match is going to be electric. Once the ignition turns over, all of the players will be firing on all cylinders. Alonso and Lahm will win many balls in midfield, and their ability to transition Bayern from defense to attack will be the difference. Porto will give the Bayern touchline a few scares, but the class of Bayern's defense will ultimately win out.