Bayern Munich v Milan
Arguably the most significant match in the group phase especially since Bayern’s surprisingly poor start to this year’s competition which has seen them collect just one point out of possible six. Defeat in the group’s opening game at home to Deportivo La Coruna was a massive blow for Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side and a failure to beat Lens on matchday 2, has merely intensified their troubles.
Anything but a win tonight and Bayern could be looking at a first round exit.
Matters were not helped by their defeat to Bayer Leverkusen at the weekend, their first loss of the domestic season. Milan lost their 100% Serie A record at the weekend when they could only draw with Lazio. However, their form this season has been hugely impressive and with the new signings Rivaldo and especially Alessandro Nesta bedding in nicely, there is much cause for optimism for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
If proof were needed of the renaissance of Milan and possibly Italian football in general, it came in last week’s 4-0 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna. Tonight’s clash with Bayern will go some way to determining whether such talk has substance or is merely wishful thinking on the part of Italian commentators.
Hitzfeld is still without Bixente Lizarazu, Mehmet Scholl, Roque Santa Cruz and Sebastian Deisler – a quartet who would walk into most teams in Europe. The Bayern coach made several changes during last week’s Champions League draw at Lens, and may do so again.
Owen Hargreaves has been used at right-back of late and Hitzfeld may keep him there or opt for Willy Sagnol. Samy Kuffour is likely to remain on the bench, his place being taken by Robert Kovac. Up front, both Pizarro and Elber are definite starters and will be looking to be supplied by an energetic midfield comprising Ze Roberto, Jeremies, Salihamidzic and of course Michael Ballack of whom so much is expected.
Ancelotti too has some notable absentees in Andriy Shevchenko, Thomas Helveg, Jose Chamot and Roque Jr. but the biggest blow could come in the form of the injury to Alessandro Nesta, who may have to sit this one out. Should Nesta fail to recover, Martin Laursen replaces him in defence. Rivaldo and the in-form Inzaghi will form the attacking partnership.
The onus is clearly on Hitzfeld’s side to take the game to the visitors and ultimately the outcome of this match may be determined by the manner in which the Italian rearguard cope with the waves of Bayern pressure. If Nesta were fit one would fancy Milan to take a point out of this game but if, as expected, he misses out, then Bayern must be favoured to prevail.
Bayern: Kahn; Hargreaves, R. Kovac, Linke, Tarnat; Salihamidzic, Jeremies, Ballack, Ze Roberto; Elber, Pizarro
Milan: Dida; Simic, Laursen, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf; Rui Costa, Inzaghi, Rivaldo
Deportivo La Coruna v Lens
Deportivo La Coruna fans will be wondering what to expect when their team takes on Lens tonight. The side that produced a memorable 3-2 away win over Bayern on matchday one, or the team that capitulated 4-0 at home to Milan last week.
The defeat to Milan’s though psychological damaging, has not ended their hopes of reaching the next stage. This in part is due to Lens grabbing a point against Bayern Munich last week, an indication that Joel Muller’s side are not in this group simply to make up the numbers.
The importance of this match to Deportivo cannot be underestimated – their hopes of progressing perhaps dependent on picking up maximum points against the French side.
“We must beat Lens twice and then we will be in a good position,” acknowledged Deportivo coach Javier Irureta, after last week’s humbling experience. “We have sustained some psychological damage butwe still have three points from two games.”
Saturday’s win over Alaves was significant, as was the return to action of strikerDiego Tristan. The Spanish international striker is set for his first start of the season as Irureta looks to make up for the loss of injured playmaker Juan Valeron. Sergio Gonzalez is expected to make way for the returning Tristan, who will spearhead the attack alongside prolific Dutch striker Roy Makaay.
Argentinian midfield player Aldo Duscher could be another to droop out tonight as Irureta welcomes back goalkeeper Jose Molina and striker Victor Sanchez from injury.
Lens meanwhile, have plenty of injury worries heading into this game. Senegalese midfield player Pape Bouba Diop is out with a twisted ankle, while Polish defender Jacek Bak is highly doubtful with a thigh strain. Some good news comes in the return after injury of Zoumana Camara.
Lens major problem this season has been their inability to find the back of the net with any regularity. Strikers Dagui Bakari, Daniel Moreira and John Utaka have so far failed to fill the boots of departedstriker El-Hadji Diouf.
Deportivo are justifiably strong favourites to win this match and in the process take a large step towards qualification for the second phase. For Lens, although not out of their depth at this level, their best hope of European success this season would appear to be via the UEFA Cup and to that end, adraw would appear to be the limit of their ambitions tonight.
Deportivo La Coruna: Juanmi; Hector, Cesar, Naybet, Capdevila; Sergio, Mauro Silva; Scaloni, Diego Tristan, Fran; Makaay.
Lens: Warmuz; Coly, Song, Coulibaly, Rool; Sibierski, Coridon, Blanchard, Pedron, Thomert; Moreira.