Believe it or not, Bayern Munich are on a six-game winning streak. Their results have not been impressive, and neither have their opponents, but they still are one a six-game winning streak.
Philipp Lahm recognizes that winning is not always enough, even though Bayern are three wins away from a Bundesliga title and a result away from their fifth-stragith Champions League semifinals. "We must be more precise. We have missed a certain freshness in some of our recent games. He have had some problems," Bayern's captain said in an interview with kicker (H/T Goal.com).
Precision is definitely a key for succeeding on the road, something Bayern have not done in a Champions League knockout stage match in over two years. Depending on how other results shake out, the treble seekers could have a very well-lit path to another Champions League title, but they have to win their tie first.
The Match (8th Meeting)
Location: Estádio do Sport, Lisbon, Portugal
Referee: Björn Kuipers
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Television and Streaming:
US: Fox, Fox Deportes, Fox Sports GO, Fox Soccer 2Go
Canada: TSN3, TSN5, beIN Sports, beIN Sports Connect
UK: BT Sport 2, BT Sport Live Streaming
Germany: ZDF, Sky Sport 1 & 2 | HD, Sky Go, TeleClub Sport Live
1st Leg Result
First Leg Result
UEFA Champions League: 5 W, 2 D, 0 L
Stale, complacent, underwhelming. Pick a moderately negative adjective, and that probably applies to the way Bayern have performed in 2016. By the same token, the Bundesliga frontrunners have done something they have not been able to do in recent seasons: rotate their squad and keep players fresh.
Medhi Benatia, Jérôme Boateng and Arjen Robben will not make the trip, but those subtractions are a lot less in number than what Pep Guardiola has had to suffer through at this stage of the season. The manager has been very cautious with players like Douglas Costa, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller, ensuring his key players remain fresh for when he needs them most. The outcome? He has all of the players he needs to get a solid road result, something Bayern desperately need.
Dominating possession is what Guardiola teams do, and that is precisely what they need to do in this match. That will involve Philipp Lahm tucking in as a holding midfielder at times, but if David Alaba, Javi Martinez, and Joshua Kimmich move the way they did over the weekend, Bayern should not have a problem keeping Manuel Neuer from seeing too many shots. Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal helped Bayern switch the point of attack in the first leg, and with Benfica likely to defend in the same way, Guardiola will need both for Bayern to move effectively.
Bayern's second legs have involved a resurgence of some kind, and with an away-from-home stigma that has haunted them all season, Lisbon would be a perfect place for a form revival.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Franck Ribéry – Thomas Müller – Douglas Costa
Thiago Alcantara – Arturo Vidal
David Alaba – Javi Martinez – Joshua Kimmich – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Juan Bernat, Rafinha, Xabi Alonso, Sebastian Rode, Mario Götze, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Medhi Benatia (groin), Jerome Boateng (groin), Arjen Robben (groin)
When it comes to squad decisions in this round of second legs, Rui Vitória will have the toughest of the remaining Champions League coaches. His team have a legitimate shot of knocking out one of the perennial favorites, but his squad may not have the pieces to do so.
The biggest absence he will have to overcome is Jonas, the prolific goalscorer who gave his side the best chances to snatch an away goal. Eliminated from selection with the classic poorly-timed yellow card suspension, Jonas will have to sit in the stands as young Raul Jimenez tries to replicate what he can do. The squad woes do not stop there, for Nico Gaitán is also doubtful after ending training early this week with an injury.
That poses an major conundrum for Vitória. Does he start Gaitán and Luisão, two players who have brought the club so much success, to give Benfica a chance to advance to the semifinals? Or does he leave them out, hoping his young players can step up at home and preserve his stars for the rest of the Liga NOS season? His system will be pretty clear, trying to compress space and take Bayern's forwards out of the game, but some players are more equipped to handle the pressure than others.
Benfica put a legitimate scare into the Allianz Arena crowd last week, and with a home crowd at their backs, they may be able to pull off another shocking upset in these Champions League quarterfinals.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2):
Raul Jimenez – Konstantinos Mitroglu
Talisca – Renato Sanches – Ljubomir Fejsa – Pizzi
Eliseu – Jardel – Victor Nilsson Lindelöf – André Almeida
Bench: Paulo Lopes, Luisão, Andreas Samaris, Eduardo Salvio, Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, Nico Gaitán, Goncalo Guedes
Out/Suspended: Jonas (yellow card suspension), Julio Cesar (thigh), Nuno Santos (knee)
If Bayern's players have hearts of champions, they should be able to really take the game to Benfica. The biggest thing Lewandowski and Müller will need is space, so Douglas Costa and Franck Ribéry will have to do their best to give them some. Vidal and Thiago will also be critical to not only make things happen with their passing, but also make late runs into the box, giving Benfica's defense more than they can handle. Benfica used a lot of early balls to open up Bayern's defense in the first leg, but without Jonas, their chances will not have the same bite they usually do.
The Other Action
Champions League Quarterfinals
Europa League Quarterfinals
Liverpool (1-1 AGG) Borussia Dortmund (Thursday, 3:05 PM ET)
Athletic Bilbao (2-1 AGG) Sevilla (Thursday, 3:05 PM ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk (2-1 AGG) Sporting Braga (3:05 PM ET)
Sparta Prague (1-2 AGG) Villarreal (3:05 PM ET)