Not often does Bayern Munich's season boil down to one match. The UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg against FC Porto will set the course of how the 2014/15 storyline looks.
The narrative certainly applied a year ago, the Rekordmeister's 2013/14 season defined by a 0-5 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the semifinal which had a second leg to forget. This second leg has a magnitude of an even higher degree, for a shortcoming this time around would be a significant step back for a team who has reached the semifinals in four of the last five years.
The Bavarians will once again have to go in with a hand tied around their back, Pep Guardiola facing even more squad injuries to make the mountainous task even harder to climb. Julen Lopetegui meanwhile has nothing to lose, for his Porto team has already overachieved compared to seasons past.
As Thomas Müller stated over the weekend, Bayern's hopes lie on an away goal, a rickety platform the German giants have to springboard themselves to their fourth consecutive Champions League semifinal.
The Match (7th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: Martin Atkinson
FC Bayern: 2 W, 0 D, 0 L – 7 YC
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Television and Streaming:
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FC Bayern: WLWWW
FC Porto: WWWWL
1st Leg Result
1st Leg Result
UEFA Champions League: 3 W, 1 D, 2 L
Largest Victory: 2-0 (March 20, 1991, Munich)
Largest Defeat: 1-3 (April 15, 2015, Porto)
The path has never been steeper for this modern Bayern team. The club has not faced a first-leg deficit in the Champions League since the 2008/09 season under Jürgen Klinsmann, one only a few players currently in the squad would remember. Barcelona was the opponent back then, and even though the task against Porto appears more attainable, it will come under grueling circumstances.
Guardiola will still be without his two great wingers, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, and his two favorite left backs, David Alaba and Juan Bernat, could be unfit to play as well (Bernat is questionable after a dicey collision against Hoffenheim). Add two players at the helm, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who are recovering from respective illnesses, and Guardiola gets a toxic squad mix to try to field a team with.
After wisely resting his key players at the weekend, Guardiola at least has some fresh legs to put into the side. Whether or not he decides to keep Dante in the squad is still a crapshoot, although the gaffer may be forced to if Bernat is not fit to play. Regardless, a back four is still Bayern's best chance to win with the three attackers Porto can put at the top.
Without Ribéry and Robben to charge forward, Guardiola could be inclined to stretch the play, especially with Porto having to rely on replacement fullbacks. That tactic could make Mitchell Weiser, who provided excellent service against Hoffenheim at the weekend, a latent X-factor in the second leg as a winger. Sebastian Rode certainly falls into that category as well, someone to drive the play forward with two goals to attain.
Whatever concoction Guardiola comes up with, it will have to be potent in order to be the antidote to Bayern's predicament on Tuesday.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3):
Mario Götze – Robert Lewandowski – Thomas Müller
Xabi Alonso – Philipp Lahm
Juan Bernat – Holger Badstuber – Jérôme Boateng – Rafinha
Bench: Pepe Reina, Dante, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sebastian Rode, Gianluca Gaudino, Mitchell Weiser, Claudio Pizarro
Out/Suspended: David Alaba (knee), Mehdi Benatia (hamstring), Javi Martínez (knee), Arjen Robben (abdomen), Franck Ribéry (ankle), Tom Starke (ankle)
No side left in the Champions League has less pressure on them than Porto. Barcelona may have the away goal edge against Paris Saint-Germain, but the negative outcome for them is much more damaging than it is for Porto. They can look towards the heavens knowing they have a soft landing if they fall on their bums.
With that in mind, Lopetegui is going to have a very difficult balancing act over the 90 minutes his club has to play in Allianz Arena. The two goal lead certainly is empty if they are not able to find an away goal, and yet the manager does not want to allow Bayern in behind.
How does Lopetegui push back the incoming forces without exposing his keep? The answer is obvious: counterattacking football. The problem with that tactic for Lopetegui is his two starting fullbacks, Danilo and Alex Sandro, are crucial to Porto getting the ball out of their own end and starting the break, and both are suspended in the second leg. That puts the onus on Maicon, Bruno Martins Indi, Casemiro, and inevitable replacement Ivan Marcano to not turn over the ball in their own half.
While Vincent Aboubakar may be slightly better holding up the ball, Jackson Martínez will likely get another cap, hopefully more fit than he was in the first leg. Yacine Brahimi's ability to keep the ball and drive the play forward will be even more imperative, with Ricardo Quaresma's stunning pace, power, and finish looking to deliver the knockout punch.
Porto know their underdog status has not changed even with a two goal lead. They will need another big performance to come out on top, but it will have to come in a slightly different way.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3):
Yacine Brahimi – Jackson Martínez – Ricardo Quaresma
Óliver Torres – Casemiro – Hector Herrera
Bruno Martins Indi – Ivan Marcano – Maicon – Ricardo Pereira
Bench: Helton, Diego Reyes, José Ángel, Rúben Nieves, Juan Quintero, Hernâni, Vincent Aboubakar
Out/Suspended: Alex Sandro (yellow card), Danilo (yellow card), Christian Tello (leg)
This is the match that defines careers, that compels narratives, and that shifts the tectonics in world football. The tension in this match, from the touchlines to the spectator seats, will be tighter than cables holding up a suspension bridge. That tension will snap if Porto score a goal, forcing Bayern to put on a full bombardment in order to keep their Champions League hopes alive. The players will be looking to get every advantage they can, whether it is scratching like a tiger or flopping like a fish. Even with Bayern's thin squad, Porto's defense will have a tough time dealing with the loss of their two fullbacks, and Guardiola will do everything he can to exploit that advantage. As Bayern sprint the ball back after every goal, they will eventually come out as victors and advance.