A few years ago Bayern Munich were one of the most feared teams in Europe but more recently have struggled to convert their dominance in Germany into Champions League success. Since a run of finalists/semi-finalists/winners from 1999-2001, they have yet to go past the quarter finals since. Their decline has been so significant that last season they weren’t even in Europe’s premier competition at all, having finished 4th in the Bundesliga in 2006-07. Since then though they have spent big money on players like Franck Ribery and installed everyone’s favourite diver from the 1990’s Jurgen Klinsmann as manager in an attempt to get back to the glory days.
Sporting meanwhile haven’t won the Primeira Liga for eight years but have been runners up for the past three seasons thus comfortably qualifying for the Champions League. Such is the dominance of the big three clubs in Portugal, only two titles have ever been won by someone not named Porto, Benfica or Sporting. They have a talented young squad and players like Miguel Veloso and captain Joao Moutinho are coveted by many big clubs.
Following a disastrous fourth place finish in 2007 (their lowest since 6th in 1994-95) Bayern set about rebuilding with a massive spending spree. Amongst the new signings were Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni and record buy Franck Ribery. They duly delivered the title last season but following the instalment of Klinsmann as manager in the summer they have once again struggled this year and currently find themselves in 4th place. Though they are only four points off the pace being set by Hamburg, they made their worst start in 30 years and have lost three of the last four. In contrast though the Champions League group stages saw them comfortably top Group F ahead of Lyon and go unbeaten in their six games. Either way it’s clear Klinsmann has yet to fully put his stamp on Bayern.
Sporting were in the same group as Barcelona and whilst they lost twice to the Catalans they comfortably won their other four games against Shakhtar and Basel. They lie in third place domestically and go into the match with average form despite having won their last two games. I think that having a big game against Benfica at the weekend will actually have helped them as they will have had the chance to adjust to a higher quality of opposition rather than going in cold against Bayern.
Bayern will look to star player Ribery to create openings for Toni and Klose upfront. Though he only has three assists in the league the league this season he has been fouled 66 times, by the far the most of any Bayern player. This would indicate the opposition try to take him out before he’s in a position to do any damage. This is perhaps only moderately successful as he has scored six times too. The two strikers have quite a formidable partnership, so much so that Lukas Podolski is leaving Bayern for Cologne this summer in order to get some first team football. In addition to both having nine league goals, Polish born Klose already has five Champions League goals to his name too. Sporting will have to be wary of his aerial presence as well as Toni’s physical style and come hither eyes.
Sporting will look to try and control central midfield through the aforementioned Veleso and Moutinho and then hope that Liedson can feed on the service provided by former Barcelona player Fabio Rochemback and Russian Marat Izmailov. If he can’t then they will be relying on Spurs flop Helder Postiga. The less said about that the better.
I think this tie could be quite entertaining with a few goals in it. Sporting will look to try and get a lead at home to then defend at the Allianz Arena, and will be confident of scoring past a Bayern defence which has conceded 30 times in just 21 league games. Bayern’s saving grace is that they have several players capable of getting a goal out of nothing, none more so than Ribery.
Though Sporting have conceded only 14 in 19 games domestically, I suspect that is more a reflection on the weakness of the Portuguese league than the strength of their defence. Barcelona put five past them in Portugal and though Bayern are not on the same level they should provide a sterner test than most teams Sporting have faced so far this season. The Germans seem to play with more freedom in Europe as there isn’t the weight of expectation to win every game that comes in the Bundesliga. They only let in four goals in the group stage and beat Lyon away which is something Barcelona couldn’t manage last night. They may well lose 2-1 tonight but I back them to overturn any deficit in the second leg.