Jupp's options a luxury?

Posted by Susie Schaaf

"I went to bed with the Old Lady and I woke up with the Old Lady," Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes said of his mental preparation for the first leg of his team's Champions League quarterfinal tie with Juventus Tuesday in Germany.

And, with David Alaba and Mario Gomez returning to training after suffering slight injuries while on international duty, Heynckes' selection status is wide-open: "I can draw on unlimited resources."

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Conundrums abound for Heynckes in getting his best Startelf against Juventus. Just when one thinks they've gotten into the mind of the German trainer -- you know, the one who lead Real Madrid to Champions League glory in 1998 over Juve -- he always seems to throw a few curveballs your way.

There are three excellent striking options for Heynckes up top in Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro. But who is the best man to exploit Juve's three-man back line of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini?

Heynckes told Bild: "We have three centre-forwards, we have four absolutely top-class players for the wide attacking positions, and I can only pick three of them at a time."

Pizarro made a case for himself with his four-goal, two-assist haul Saturday in the 9-2 rout of hapless Hamburg, but it seems unlikely that Heynckes grants him the start here. The coach noted: "It's obviously a bit unusual when a player scores four goals in game to then be discussing whether he will be playing in the next game."

Intriguing to me, however, was the understanding between Pizarro and Arjen Robben during the HSV match. With most German media tipping Robben to get the start at right wing, we're likely to see Pizarro at some point.

A fully-fit Gomez could be dangerous against a back three, as he would have space to exploit. His positional awareness -- when granted that space --surpasses Heynckes' other two stellar options, and the man has a nose for goals. The question then -- with a deep-lying Andrea Pirlo, can Bayern's wings feed Gomez?

Though Mandzukic has not had much luck finding the net in Champions League play, and his form has dipped a bit over the second half of the Bundesliga, he might be the answer Heynckes is looking for. More mobile with the ball at his feet than Gomez, and the best defender of the three strikers, he's the guy most willing to fight back and draw the defense towards him. Shame about him being unable to score, though.

I noted most are saying Robben will get the nod on the right, which then gives Heynckes options in the playmaker's role. Toni Kroos has been rather quiet of late, and Heynckes might choose to leave him out, looking back at the Euro 2012 semifinal where he (and Germany, really) had no answer for Pirlo.

How do you leave Thomas Mueller out of the starting XI? Heynckes can't afford to, really. While the German international has been fantastic on the right -- and he would have to be to keep Robben on the bench -- he is also useful, and comfortable, in the ten spot. His unpredictability (he even says he never knows what he will do until he does it) and never-give-up attitude gives Bayern a shot at wreaking havoc all over the box.

With Philipp Lahm, Dante and Alaba defensive certainties, who will Jupp select to partner Dante at center back? Despite the overwhelming offensive dominance of Bayern this season, their one glaring weak spot is defending set pieces -- notably, Hamburg's goals came from two corners.

Is Daniel van Buyten the answer? Better on free kicks and corners than Jerome Boateng, his lack of speed cost Bayern dearly in the return Arsenal tie, when the Gunners almost overturned a three-goal deficit.

As long as Dante doesn't get caught out ball-watching, as he did for HSV's first goal, Boateng's aggressiveness is the better option against a very physical Juventus side. He's more likely to mix it up against Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic than the big Belgian.

That said, Mark Clattenburg has the whistle for this one -- and he calls shady tackles. Should Boateng pull a "Boateng" and get sent off a la the BATE match, it could spell disaster for Bayern Munich.

Heynckes mused to Bild on his selections: "When a player signs a contract for Bayern Munich he must know there is no guarantee that he will play in each game. Obviously, on the one hand, it is not so easy, neither for the coach nor the players, but a club like Bayern must have alternatives and options, to be able to challenge for titles at national and international level. That is how it is and we have to accept it."

We will all accept it, Jupp, if you give us a Bayern Munich Startelf that can beat the mental hurdle of facing an Italian side, throw some goals on the scoreboard, and give Juventus something to ponder in the return leg. Capisce?

On a personal note, I am very much looking forward to Tuesday! I'll be in New York for the match, watching at Smithfield's -- home to Bayern Munich's New York fan club. If you're in the area, stop by for a pint, some laughs and a win!

And finally, if you'd like to hear ESPNFC Juve blogger Mina Rzouki and me on the Mad About Futbol podcast, you can find the link here. The extended version contains some non-football banter which you all might enjoy! Special shout-outs to Michael Lopez, Juan Arango and George Metellus for having a ladies night. It was a treat!

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