If the UEFA Champions League results form yesterday taught us anything, it is that you can never underestimate the ability of professionals to push away “what is supposed to happen.”
Just two months ago, Manchester City and FC Barcelona appeared to be on course for a head-on collision that would ultimately determine the winner of the Champions League. Sports are funny that way, however, as now both storied clubs will be nothing more than spectators for the rest of the competition.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp employed a “bully-the-bully” philosophy that enabled his team to take advantage of the recent flaws that have become apparent in Manchester City’s game. City has not looked like its previously dominant self since being ousted from the FA Cup by lowly Wigan. Klopp empowered his immensely talented to squad to exploit those weaknesses by encouraging relentless offensive pressure. In addition, instead of sitting back and hoping to cause congestion in its defensive end, Liverpool pressed up higher and took the action to City in a way that made them uncomfortable to say the least.
For A.S. Roma, it was a game determined by heart. Facing a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 deficit, the Serie A club started fast with a 6th minute goal from Edin Dzeko and never stopped pushing the pace until the 82nd minute goal by Kostas Manolas bounced Barcelona out of the tournament as Roma won on an away goal.
For Bayern Munich, there is a major lesson to be learned by watching those spectacular flame-outs: Don’t expect Sevilla to roll over. Sevilla showed Bayern a lot of ability in the first leg of this tie, and we are not just talking about a theatrical flare for dramatic dives. Sevilla absolutely displayed the will, grit, and resolve necessary to come to Munich and impose themselves on to Bayern.
So what else, if anything, could Bayern take away from watching those world powers fall short of reaching the Champions League semifinals and apply to its match-up today?
1. Start fast and keep the pressure on Sevilla
Bayern must not let Sevilla get ahead early. The Bavarians should use their vast talent to apply offensive pressure and take the game right at the Sevilla defense. Sevilla’s best chance in Munich today is to catch Bayern early for a goal, play with reckless abandon, and try to force Bayern into defensive mistakes. Bayern can exploit this by taking advantage of Sevilla’s exuberance. Players like Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and James Rodriguez can apply enough offensive pressure to wear down the Sevilla back line. Bayern absolutely cannot let Sevilla find the net early and give the La Liga side any momentum like Barcelona allowed with Roma.
2. Don’t lose faith in Jupp Heynckes
For all of Pep Guardiola’s technical genius, his team management could be questioned, given the way he used his personnel against Liverpool. It is in this area where Jupp Heynckes holds a key advantage over many coaches. The feel for player management and the respect that Heynckes demands from his players are a huge key not only to maintaining balance in a potentially volatile Bayern locker room, but also to ensuring that the team will trust his moves in games exactly like this one. With so much talent, Heynckes must rely on his gut instinct on who to play today. Heynckes has earned enough trust from the team’s stable of world-class players to ensure personal agendas do not interfere with the greater goal that the team hopes to achieve. It is a trust that may not be afforded to many other coaches globally.
3. Don’t get complacent: be Bayern Munich
Recently Bayern has fallen victim to some untimely bouts with defensive lapses and offensive apathy. Sevilla has nothing to lose, so it will likely keep swinging at Bayern Rocky Balboa-style until it has no energy left in an effort to advance. Had Barcelona displayed any killer instinct to finish Roma or if Manchester had displayed any of the supreme confidence it had earlier in the season, those teams might be moving on. Die Roten should heed those words uttered by Müller after defeating Paris Saint-Germain in December: “We are Bayern.” If Heynckes’ squad plays the aggressive, persistent, and opportunistic style it has become legendary for, Bayern should be able to advance to the semifinals—and inch even closer toward the opportunity to secure another treble.