Let's be honest: Last week's 3-1 loss to FC Porto was about as bad as it could get for Bayern Munich. They were out-pressed, out-harassed-, out-tackled and more generally out-played for close to 70 minutes before Porto shut up shop.
The only situation in that opening leg where Bayern enjoyed any amount of success was when they were able to get men in wide positions and crash the box with numbers -- which was very infrequent and almost never from open play. Bayern's lone goal came off a midfield recovery following a corner kick, exploiting a Porto defense in transition.
Normally exploiting the wings is one of Bayern Munich's best abilities but taking a quick glance down the injury list already spells trouble in that department for today's match.
Arjen Robben. Out. Franck Ribery. Out. David Alaba. Out. Juan Bernat. Suspect.
The only viable wide players Bayern Munich have that are 100% locks for this match are Thomas Müller and Rafinha --and Philipp Lahm but he really doesn't count anymore. Yes, this team does have Mitchell Weiser, but if Guardiola's strategy is reliant on the skills of a 21-year-old development prospect at the expense of the rest of his skilled lineup, you can probably kiss the Champions League semi-finals goodbye.
That problem with a lack of wide play is it will be the area where Porto are going to be weakest. With both Danilo and Alex Sandro out for this match, Porto will be forced into playing their second string fullbacks. If Bernat is healthy, he and Thomas Müller should constitute formidable wing play. However, Müller's propensity to drift inside in Guardiola's system guarantees the fullback overlap on the right side will be key in exploiting that space. To that end Rafinha will need to be aggressive with his attacks from the outset, content to stretch the Porto defense and open space in the middle on the cross.
On the left, Juan Bernat will be all alone again but with Danilo out Mario Götze will find more room to operate. That space may be just enough for the Spanish leftback to find some room provided he can find a way to shake away the defensive influence Ricardo Quaresma brought in the first leg. On the flipside, if Juan Bernat is not fit for tomorrow's match then all bets are off on how Bayern Munich conquers the left. It could be as simple as a return of Philipp Lahm to the leftback spot after a decade of absence or it could be as complex as a hybridized 3-man backline where someone operates as a centerback/fullback hybrid -- which we've seen Guardiola do on the right this season.
Despite the importance of exploiting the wings, it will be through the middle that Bayern Munich need to bring the most potency to bear. Last week's performance against the Porto secondary press of Hector Herrera and Oliver was anemic at best and criminal at worst. The pair continuously exploited and harassed Xabi Alonso for the entire match and that harassment gave Bayern Munich zero ability to build through the midfield or out of the back.
If Bayern are going to have any chance in this match they need to combine midfield strength with the aforementioned ability to attack the wings. That means being able to both pass and dribble quickly out of the secondary press.That also means Alonso should not start and Philipp Lahm or Bastian Schweinsteiger should take his place as the pivot in midfield. Playing Alonso again against a high pressing opponent like Porto will be tantamount to tactical suicide and unless Guardiola specifically builds a plan around mitigating that weakness -- which let's be honest, he hasn't for the last three months -- then Bayern will likely be unceremoniously dumped on their butts.
With both Lahm and Schweinsteiger recovering from illnesses sustained over the last week, their ability to go 90 minutes should be in question. This means Guardiola will likely opt for Sebastian Rode and Thiago Alcantara as the more box-to-box style midfielders. If both Lahm and Schweinsteiger are fully fit, Guardiola could play Schweinsteiger, Lahm, and Rode in midfield and shift Thiago farther up the pitch to feed throughballs in to Lewandowski and Juan Bernat on the left as an attacking midfielder.
We're 90 minutes away from having the answer to whether Pep Guardiola can truly pull a tactical rabbit out of his hat, or whether or not Bayern Munich are going to go out of the Champions League in potentially embarrassing fashion for a second season running.