It's time for Bayern Munich

Posted by Mina Rzouki

In order to be the best, you have to play the best. Tuesday's quarter-final Champions League tie against Bayern Munich in Germany will finally tell us more about what to expect of Antonio Conte's Juventus. Are they simply a side that will dominate calcio, or are they ready to take on European champions?

- Schaaf: Jupp's options a luxury?
- Conte doesn't fear Bayern
- Nine-goal Bayern keeping focus on Juve


Barring the two Spanish giants, Bayern Munich perhaps present the toughest challenge for the Old Lady. Financially secure as a club and tactically organised on the pitch, Jupp Heynckes continues to improve a side that has been made to suffer against the might of Borussia Dortmund in recent years. This season, they have exhibited their superiority and inflicted their supremacy.

Once thought to be lethargic and reliant on individual moments of magic, this year the Bavarians instead depend on fluidity of a team unit. They press higher up the pitch and in unison, they run incessantly and they boast exemplary levels of fitness.

The astute purchases they did make in the transfer market has not only raised the level of quality, but it has allowed the side to be both offensively unpredictable and defensive stronger.

While they are blessed with attacking talent, goals come from everywhere at Bayern Munich. Not even Arjen Robben's genius now commands a starting role within the team. Possessing a wide threat that will indeed prove to be a challenge for Juve's wing-backs, they are equally as strong going through the middle due to the work of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Yet they are not invincible. Quite controversial to believe so considering they humiliated Hamburg 9-2 Saturday. Juventus could never achieve such a scoreline - largely because Italian politeness sees them unwilling to humiliate opponents.

However, a brilliant performance going forward for Bayern was marred by the concession of two sloppy goals that arrived from set pieces. Herein lies the Bavarians' weakness - their back-line is susceptible to lapses in concentration that allow their opponents the opportunity to exercise their attacking skills.

Against Juventus, the German giants who have only conceded 13 goals in the Bundesliga, are expected to be perfectly organised at the back with the midfield tasked with picking up runners from midfield. However, with Javi Martninez suspended, the Old Lady is blessed to have a vital cog in the Bayern midfield engine missing.

The Spaniard's authoritative play for his club has been impressive. Securing the back line with his ability to win the majority of his challenges, his tackles have been made with confidence to regain possession and launch the team forward.

Offensively, he's also benefited from a great relationship with Schweinsteiger to push forward and deliver key passes and assists to aid the side in the construction of scoring opportunities.

Without Martinez, Luis Gustavo is expected to start - a brilliant passer, he may foul often but tackles consistently. However, the Brazilian is another who suffers from lapses in concentration.

With Daniel Van Buyten lacking in pace and Dante looking uneasy with the idea of players running at him, chances will be there for Juventus to exploit but they will be a few and far apart, so it's time for the Italians to be clinical.

This isn't Celtic, and the Bianconeri simply cannot squander any opportunities going forward. While their own defence has proved to be the best in the Champions League so far, against Inter they were disorganised and committed several errors that allowed the Nerazzurri one goal and several opportunities for another.

Bayern will prove a much bigger challenge. They're not missing their number nine in Diego Milito but are instead blessed with several options going forward.

If Heynckes starts Mario Gomez, then he will prove especially dangerous from set pieces. Furthermore, his strength to fight off his markers coupled with his ability to finish most chances will provide a challenge for Juve's centre-backs. He may not hold up the ball well but, but when offered the opportunity, the predator rarely misses his target.

On the other hand, Mario Mandzukic allows the midfield to partake more. He holds the ball up well, is a threat from set pieces and defensively, he's vital when it comes to filling the gaps in Bayern's defence.

While both sides have been outstanding going forward in Europe, the Bavarians have scored several of their chances from set pieces. Aerially, Juventus will have to be at the top of their game and must avoid giving away needless free-kicks around the box as they have been guilty of doing recently, especially in the match against Bologna.

The question: stick with the tested 3-5-2 formation and have two forwards up top or look to play an additional midfielder in a 3-5-1-1 shape? Conte has remained tight-lipped despite hinting admiration for a midfield-heavy formation.

With Juventus finally back where they belong, battling champions in Europe's elite competition, this is Italy's last chance to prove their players are still worthy adversaries. Is Conte ready for their most important challenge yet?

NOTE: Mina and ESPNFC Bayern Munich blogger Susie Schaaf were recently on the Mad About Futbol podcast discussing the match: you can find the link here.

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