It’s that time of the year again, where we look at who Bayern Munich might face in the Champions League Round of 16. Writing this after a disappointing draw against Union Berlin, it would be easy to get bogged down in negativity and talk about how all the potential draws are terrible and why they’ll destroy Bayern the first chance they get.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Strap in.
Option #1: Lazio
League position: 8th
Goals scored: 17
Goals conceded: 19
First up is a relative newcomer to the UCL knockouts, S.S. Lazio. Coached by Simone Inzaghi, the denizens of the Italian capital have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years, mounting a title challenge against Juventus in the 2019-20 season (before lockdown killed their momentum). Star striker Ciro Immobile was in red-hot form last season, and he remains their top scorer.
Inconsistency is the bane of this Lazio side, as they lack the effective depth or quality to mount a sustained push for trophies. They already have 4 losses in the league this season, and failed to top their group despite winning and drawing against Borussia Dortmund over two legs. In a knockout tournament, though, they can be effective. Lazio can occasionally punch above their weight, as shown in their draws against BVB and Juve this season. This wouldn’t be a tie that Bayern could sleepwalk through, but those kinds of draws don’t really exist anymore. The UCL is packed with quality teams these days, and Lazio is no exception.
Option #2: Porto
League position: 3rd
Goals scored: 23
Goals conceded: 13
Being the only team on this list hailing from a non top-4 league, FC Porto are a difficult opponent to pin down. They came second in a group with Manchester City, managing to draw Pep Gudiola’s Blues at home (against a heavily rotated side, to be fair). A healthy Bayern should be able to make short work of them at the Allianz Arena. The away leg in Portugal could end in a draw or a loss, but Hansi Flick and his men should expect to see themselves through outside of exceptional circumstances. Of course, given that the team can’t even beat Union Berlin at the moment ...
Option #3: Sevilla
League position: 5th
Goals scored: 13
Goals conceded: 9
5th in La Liga with a game in hand (they could finish the matchday in 4th), Sevilla are trying their hand at the Champions League this season, after crushing the Europa League underfoot for so many years. Bayern already faced them in the UEFA Super Cup earlier in the season, where the Spaniards made life hell for Hansi Flick and his men.
Sevilla know how to play against Bayern. They have a solid defense and the technical ability to play past the press and strike Bayern on the counter. Back in September, they held a healthy Bayern to a draw over 90 minutes of football, only faltering in extra time. They have an average record against top teams this season, losing badly to Chelsea and failing to beat weakened Real Madrid and Barcelona sides. However, their playstyle makes them a tough opponent, even when they don’t win.
Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui will doubtless have a revamped plan if he gets a second crack at the Bavarians, so this is one draw Hansi Flick will be looking to avoid.
Anyone but Sevilla, please.
Option #4: Atalanta
League position: 9th
Goals scored: 18
Goals conceded: 16
Atalanta were the hipsters’ darling team last season, playing an attractive brand of fast-paced, free scoring football under coach Gian Piero Gasperini. However, the team’s humble origins give them a distinct disadvantage in the knockout stages of the Champions League, as they barely have the squad depth to compete in more than a single competition at a time. Similar to Lazio, fixture congestion has driven a wedge of inconsistency into a finely tuned Italian machine, which can be a death sentence in the Champions League.
However, Atalanta are fearsome opponents on their day. They beat Ajax to make it to the knockouts this year, and smashed Liverpool in a game that Jurgen Klopp probably didn’t see coming. Rumors exist of tensions between coach Gasperini and his players, which could become a larger problem in the coming months. But they are a formidable opponent and not to be taken lightly, especially given Bayern’s defensive problems this season. It only takes one goal to turn a tie on its head, and Bayern are prone to conceding first lately.
Option #5: Barcelona
League position: 9th
Goals scored: 20
Goals conceded: 11
Barca fans will probably 8-2 hear this, but they’re one of the weakest teams left in the Champions League at the moment. The Catalans are a mess from top to bottom — their finances are a sham, the club president resigned after a Vote of No Confidence, and star man Leo Messi wants out of the team.
Speaking of Messi, his production has declined significantly compared to previous years. Argentina’s Little Magician is no longer capable of singlehandedly pulling Barca through a jam, which is what’s led to their sorry state on the pitch. Why this is happening is anyone’s guess. Some might say it’s because of the failure to replace Luis Suarez, who was sold in the summer. Others say that Ronald Koeman’s tactics don’t fit Messi’s playstyle, or that age is catching up to him. Maybe it’s a little bit of everything.
Regardless, Barca right now is in an even worse position than they were when Bayern beat them 8-2. With fans likely to still be banned from stadiums in February 2021 (the timing of the first leg), Barca can’t even leverage their stellar home record in the UCL to save them. While it might not be a cakewalk, especially if Messi has one of those days, Hansi’s Bayern should fancy their chances against Barca over two legs.
The UCL draw will take place on Monday, 14 December at 12 pm CET. Keep an eye on Bavarian Football Works for a live draw thread, plus instant news and reactions.