Time: 20:45 (19:45 UK)
Venue: Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Marseille home Champions League form: P4, W2, D0, L2, F4, A2
Bayern away Champions League form: P4 W1, D1, L2, F3, A4
On the back of their worst ever run of form Marseille have the unenviable task of trying to tame the Bavarian beast, Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals. Before the previous round of the games, ahead of the Internazionale game, Marseille were unbeaten in 2012 and had cast aside the doubts about the players, team and management that had been highlighted during Marseille’s terrible early season form. Since the Inter game Marseille have failed to register a win in 9 games, suffering 7 straight defeats before drawing with south-coast rivals OGC Nice, 1-1, this past weekend. Inconsistencies, injuries and injustices mean that Marseille must face up to Bayern in perhaps the most fragile state they have been in for years.
Marseille Team selection –
Didier Deschamps will be without the services of goalkeeping rock Steve Mandanda after his injury-time 2nd yellow against Inter, and it is reported that Elinton Andrade will be left to man the goal. This may come as a bit of a shock as the usual back-up ‘keeper is Gennaro Bracigliano, however, his most recent performance came in the embarrassing defeat to third tier outfit US Quevilly in the Coupe de France, where he looked rather shaky and provided a nervous performances that would hardly fill OM fans with confidence. So it will be down do the 30 year old Brazilian to play his first minutes of the season against Bayern.
Another forced change will see Rod Fanni paired with Nicolas Nkoulou in central defence after Souleymane Diawara ruptured knee ligaments in the weekends draw against Nice. Fanni has shown a number of times this season, notably in the home leg against Inter that he can be almost unstoppable going forwards, working good overlaps with Amilfatano and providing accurate crosses. This game OM will need him to be far more disciplined and concentrate on his defensive duties.
At this point it has not been confirmed if leading goal-scorer Loic Remy will play or not, however, a thigh injury is likely to see him start on the bench in a hope that he will be back to 100% for the return leg in Munich. This change will see the enigmatic Brandao start. Although Brandao is not as natural a finisher as Remy, he has scored 6 goals since returning from his loan spell away and the Marseille team have experience playing alongside him this season and therefore they know his strengths and weaknesses. Marseille will be more likely to play direct balls in the air into the box to Brandao, and also use him as a ‘hold up’ player in front of the Bayern defensive line, allowing players like Valbuena and Andre Ayew to shoot or run into the box.
Didider Deschamps looks set to continue with his tried, tested and often despised 4-2-3-1 formation. Defensively this may be the best option for Marseille with the two defensive midfeilders, Diarra and Mbia, protecting the back four from through balls, as well as supporting the right and left backs from Ribery and Robben’s patented ‘cut in and shoot’ techniques. A narrower defensive line would also help with this pushing Bayern’s wide men down the line forcing crosses that Fanni can deal with instead of shots. The problem with this formation in the past has been in the link-up between defensive and offensive play. Often the attacking 4 of Andrew Ayew, Valbuena, Amilfatano and Brandao/Remy have been left isolated and as a result they have had very little impact in some games this season. Valbuena may hold the key to ensuring that this formation can work, by dropping slightly deeper he could work as the link up player, either though passes out wide when playing deep or through dribbling with the ball, drawing in the Bayern defensive-midfielders and creating more space for the OM attackers.
Bayern Munich –
Here are the thoughts of Bundesliga and Bayern expert Red Robbery, with a more accurate account of the threat that Bayern possess, and how they will approach the game.
Having scored 22 goals in the last five matches, including a convincing 7-0 victory over Basel in the second leg of the round of 16, there’s currently a bit of a hype surrounding Munich. But is this team really that good? Is there any reason for OM fans to hope?
Let’s look back: Almost exactly six months ago, Bayern beat Manchester City at home 2-0, the tenth win in a row without conceding a single goal. Everyone was happy in Bavaria, people dreamed of winning the Champions League trophy at home, of a season full of dominance. Replacing Louis van Gaal, an undoubtedly brilliant coach who changed the club’s playing style for years to come but unfortunately was also a very stubborn, almost autocratic person, with Jupp Heynckes, a long-time friend of president Uli Hoeneß who knows the club and its surroundings like no other coach, seemed to be the perfect decision, the newfound calmness brought back success.
A month later at home against Napoli, midfield maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shoulder shattered and so did the confidence, the dominance. Surviving the group of death (City, Napoli, Villarreal) was already pretty much a done deal and they also, albeit without any beauty, managed to make it to the eagerly anticipated winter break as league leaders. Most of said winter break was spent in Qatar where Jupp Heynckes said he experienced the best training camp of his long career. Those words however turned out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. The lead was lost pretty quickly, Bayern only won three of the first seven league matches in 2012 and were on the brink of CL elimination after losing 0-1 in Basel.
But the team came back to life in remarkable fashion, beating a shockingly poor Hoffenheim 7-1. The run of humiliating opponents continued with the incredibly important 7-0 win against Basel to secure a spot in the quarter finals and even a win away from home (a rarity at this stage of the season) when they, for lack of better wording, kicked Hertha Berlin’s asses by beating them 6-0. Was it a resurrection just in time or just three convincing wins over disappointing opponents? Everybody was looking forward to the next two matches, a domestic cup semi-final in Gladbach and the latest Bundesliga fixture against Hannover, two clubs who know how to and have what it takes to beat Bayern. While these games weren’t won convincingly, they were successes nonetheless. This season’s FCB always struggled when things weren’t going their way early in the match so winning the penalty shootout against Gladbach (Bayern were the better side in the 120-minute cup fight but didn’t convert a few good chances) and beating Hannover in a close match 2-1 despite obvious exhaustion caused by that match in Gladbach just three days earlier. The players now know that they can beat opponents without scoring early goals, they’re currently getting rid of that nervousness that always increased with every minute of Bayern not leading.
The team’s strengths are well documented. The possession-based style exhausts opponents while the wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are among the best in the business, beating Munich without great full-back performances is virtually impossible. A recent change that saw Philipp Lahm moved to the right-back position with youngster David Alaba acting as new left-back offers more width, making the inverted wingers even more difficult to defend. In midfield, you furthermore have Toni Kroos who replaces the again injured Bastian Schweinsteiger with very precise passing and dangerous long-range shots, Thomas Müller who always keeps defenders on their toes with his off-the-ball movement that’s absolutely impossible to predict, and Luiz Gustavo who acts as anchor in front of the defense, intercepting passes, winning tackles and stopping attacks before they’re visible. Up front there’s Mario Gomez, the scoring machine whose positioning and anticipation are absolute world-class. A true finisher. The central defense features the German internationals Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng. If you want to sum up their roles, you could say that Badstuber is the brain and Boateng the heart of the defense. The goalkeeper is Manuel Neuer, regarded as one of the world’s best netminders. As you can see, a pretty good bunch of regulars.
This brings us to the weaknesses. While the regulars are great, the current squad lacks any signs of depth, a single injury might be enough to make everything collapse like a house of cards. Another huge weakness is that they’re very prone to self-complacency, the Bayern game is sometimes way too static and predictable. A huge problem is the dependence on scoring the first goal of the match. Only one match wasn’t won when Bayern scored first (1-1 v Napoli) while only two were won after conceding first (2-1 v Bochum, 2-1 v Stuttgart). As brilliant as he usually is, Manuel Neuer still needs to get used to the different situation, Bayern keepers don’t have to stop many shots and often have absolutely nothing to do for an hour before they have to defuse a one-on-one, they have to stay highly focused throughout the entire 90 minutes despite spending most of that time waiting. Neuer hasn’t learned that yet and is somewhat prone to an individual mistake (that he’ll make up for with a world-class save most of the time).
All in all, it will be a very difficult task for OM but if they defend well, prevent the wingers from creating dangerous situations and execute precise counter-attacks, then they can beat Bayern. Just don’t concede early.
(Red Robbery is a Bayern & Bundesliga fan and can be followed on Twitter @redrobbery )
Many areas of the media have the winners of this tie already decided, giving Marseille about as much chance as APOEL supposedly have against Real Madrid. Perhaps this naivety bodes well for les phocéens though. The weight of expectation on the shoulders of this team has been obvious for all to see this season and the burden of competing in 4 different competitions until last week has had its impact on the team physically and now mentally. The Champions League should be a welcome break to the OM squad, a reminder of how well they can do.
Bayern are not unbeatable, Basel showed this in the first leg, and away from home they have been far from convincing. If Marseille can attack Bayern early on and unsettle them, another Basel-esque shock could well be on the cards for Bayern. If Marseille are to stand a chance of progressing they must make home advantage count. The Stade Velodrome can be an incredibly intimidating venue as many teams have discovered, something Franck Ribery will know all too well, and despite the renovation work taking place the fans will ensure a raucous reception for the German side. A win would come as a huge result for the OM crowd and help Marseille forget about the recent wretched run of form and help provide a stunning finale to a mediocre at best ligue campaign. Predicted result Marseille 1-1 Bayern.
Swanny (@MarseilleUK & @Andrew_Js3)