When it comes to career-defining games, Pep Guardiola cannot ask for more than this. The narratives write themselves – last year of his deal, two previous semifinal defeats, three first-leg deficits to three different Spanish teams – but the meaning of this match far exceeds these microcosms. A Bayern Munich coach's legacy will be defined tomorrow, and the result will determine if Guardiola belongs in the same sentence as the best managers ever to work in Munich.
The challenge ahead is pretty paramount: not only outscore one of the best defenses in Europe, but also prevent them from scoring the away goal that will turn the tie on its head. Bayern are pretty good at that first part, but even though they have conceded just 10 goals at home all season, every one of them came against quality opponents. As Atlético Madrid showed in the last round against Barcelona, an away goal is something they are very capable of, and Diego Simeone will do his best to ensure at least one happens.
This match is as primetime as it gets, and may be more intense than the Champions League final itself. Atléti are the odds-on favorite to advance based on their 1-0 aggregate lead, but as Bayern have showed against several opponents under Guardiola, they have enough tricks up their sleeves to make some magic happen.
The Match (4th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır
Bayern: 2 W, 0 D, 1 L – 3 YC
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Television and Streaming:
US: Fox Sports 1 | HD, Fox Sports GO, ESPN Deportes, Fox Soccer 2Go, WatchESPN
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Germany: ZDF, Sky Sport 1 | HD, Sky Go, TeleClub Sport Live
UEFA Champions League: 1 W, 1 D, 1 L
Largest Victory: 4-0 (UEFA Champions League: May 25, 1974, Brussels)
Largest Defeat: 0-1 (UEFA Champions League: April 27, Madrid)
Guardiola's first leg set-up was a big shock for many – not including Thomas Müller or Franck Ribéry, starting with three in midfield – but should not have surprised those who paid attention to the coach's first-leg approach over recent seasons. The Spaniard deployed similar tactics in 2014 against Real Madrid, and he got the same results them as he did against Atléti two years later.
The second leg is where the cap is going to come off, where Bayern will need their best attackers performing at their best levels. Having Müller back is not only good for his sake, but also for his partner, Robert Lewandowski. Simeone seemed to have four defenders around the Lewandowski at all times, but with Müller also drawing attention, the Polish striker should be able to show why he is one of the best in the world.
Müller's inclusion will put pressure on the midfield though, which makes Arturo Vidal's destroying ability all that more important. He was a tad reckless at times in Madrid, but if he is able to win the ball cleanly, he can take a lot of pressure off of the defense. Guardiola is also going to keep their defenders high up the field to help out though, so how players like David Alaba and Philipp Lahm perform in one-on-one situations could determine how the match ultimately plays out.
This is the match eight months of football comes down to, and this trial not only applies to Guardiola, but to the Bayern players as well.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Franck Ribery – Thomas Müller – Douglas Costa
Thiago Alcantara – Arturo Vidal
David Alaba – Jerome Boateng – Javi Martinez – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Juan Bernat, Medhi Benatia, Joshua Kimmich, Xabi Alonso, Mario Gotze, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Arjen Robben (groin)
Atlético Madrid were the better team in the first leg of this tie. No one can argue against that. Sure, Bayern had chances late that could have equalized the game, but Simeone's defense seemed in control for the whole 90 minutes – without their best defender. No team wants to play clubs like his Atléti, especially twice.
By the same token, Atléti's attack is the reason why they are not well on their way to a treble themselves. Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres are a powerful partnership, but the cannot power victories like other players they play against can. Atléti do have the type of attack that can expose Bayern though with their strong service and scintillating skill up front. If Koke, Saúl Ñíguez, Felipe Luis or Juanfran play a pinpoint early cross, Bayern's defense will be in deep trouble.
Much like Boateng will be a difference maker for Bayern, Diego Godín will be a big boost for Atléti. He combines aerial skills with imposing tackling, and knows how to get the ball out of danger. Simeone's defense were not necessarily missing those attributes in the first leg, but having Godín back at its hart certainly cannot hurt.
Atléti nearly won the Champions League two seasons ago, and if they can stop Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi from scoring on a weekly basis, they should have the strength to keep Bayern out of the back of the net.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2):
Fernando Torres – Antoine Griezmann
Koke – Gabi – Augusto Fernández – Saúl Ñíguez
Felipe Luis – José Gimenez – Diego Godín – Juanfran
Bench: Moya, Stefan Savić, Jesús Gámez, Claudio Kranevitter, Lucas Hernández, Thomas Teye Partey, Lucas Vietto
Out/Suspended: Tiago (leg), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (ankle)
Bayern are favorites to win this match, but as with two-legged ties, it all depends on how they win. Are they capable of scoring multiple times? Absolutely, especially if Alaba, Douglas and Vidal unleash the kind of efforts Oblak had to deflect away in the first leg. The biggest variable is Atléti's goalscoring ability, for they showed an ineptitude in big moments this season. Unlike Bayern's match against Juventus, how the first goal comes in this second leg could set the tempo for how the rest of the match plays out.