Miasanrot Roundtable: Five questions ahead of the match against Benfica

On Wednesday evening Bayern are playing SL Benfica in Lisbon. After a narrow 1:0 win in the first leg, Bayern’s hopes on advancing to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League depend on getting another good result. We sat down for a Miasanrot roundtable to discuss the challenge. Author: Justin • Translator:

Our authors Steffen, Felix and Justin have invited Martin, who will accompany the team to Lisbon, to have the final seat on the table.

Offensively, there should be no big surprises. Who would you start in the back line and in central midfield?

Martin: Vidal will start the game, undoubtedly. I definitely prefer Thiago to play next to him, even if he has disappointed in the first leg. With him, we simply have a greater presence and ball security in midfield. In the back line the decision is probably between Kimmich and Bernat, which also decides Alaba’s position. I’d rather let Bernat start, because Alaba’s experience compared to Kimmich in such a do-or-die game can make the difference.

Steffen: Thiago is a sure starter in the Champions League. I see Vidal clearly ahead of Xabi Alonso. Especially because it would add a goal scoring threat from the depths. But I hope that Guardiola will use Alonso’s ball security as an early substitution from the bench. Already in the first leg, there was a phase in which Bayern made too many mistakes and threatened to lose control of the game a little. Alonso can help to secure a result with his presence and calm. About the defense I have a very clear opinion. Either a back three as in Stuttgart or a back four with Lahm, Martínez, Benatia/Kimmich and Alaba. Bernat has not convinced me during his many opportunities, neither offensively nor defensively.

Felix: To not let Vidal start the game would be a real mistake I think. In the first leg, he has pretty much filled the role that I had hoped for from him: He was good on the ball, has played many good switches in the first few minutes, when Benfica left the wings open, and he often advanced into the penalty area as an additional target for crosses. Next to him I see Thiago ahead of Alonso, solely because of his better interaction with Vidal. On defense, I’m on Steffen’s side to leave Bernat on the bench, who was more of a burden than a help recently. Lahm, Martinez, Alaba/Kimmich, Alaba/Rafinha would be my favorite back four.

Justin: Concerning Vidal I can only agree. In the last games he was the most important player in midfield and he will probably be the same against Benfica. In Lisbon I would field a back four with Lahm and Alaba as full-backs. Lahm would then move into the center during the build-up again. I also agree with the others about Bernat. He didn’t have good performances recently and therefore should be replaced by Alaba, who makes better decisions in the final third. Furthermore, I expect the combinations on the left flank to me much more in sync that way. In the center of defense and I see Kimmich and Martínez. After the game in Stuttgart there is no reason to leave these two on the bench. Thus my defensive set-up would be a back four with Lahm, Kimmich, Martínez and Alaba and Vidal on the six.

Where does Bayern need to improve compared to the first leg and how do you expect Benfica?

Felix: What Bayern should do? Learn from the Juventus game and act conservatively, especially in the first minutes. It could get problematic, if Benfica manages to “equalize” early, because then they could rely completely on their successful tactics from the first leg again. Other than that, I think nothing is as important as the conversion of chances. Lewandowski and Lahm could have let us all sleep better.

Martin: The key lies in the midfield. Many simple turnovers in the first leg have made life difficult for us. If we can avoid these, the chances for us will come automatically and if we score that away goal, the game is pretty much over. I expect Benfica to play very compact, similar to the first leg.

Justin: I am with Martin on that one. It’s decisive to avoid the simple turnovers. In the first leg some absurd decisions were made in the last third, something that hasn’t happened before in that variety. It will be important to keep the concentration up. Chances will come up and one or two of them must be used as quickly as possible. I also expect Benfica to be compact, but at the same time they will be positioned very high up the field. The two lines of four will close the center again and the team of Vitora will have early pressing situations. In the first leg Bayern only had problems with Benfica’s pressing, when they also made life hard for themselves. Between the 55th and 70th minute Benfica could very well have equalized. In this complicated phase, the team tried to always get out of the pressing with a solution based on short passes, instead of hoofing it up front and to start a counter press situationally. The latter I would rather want to see more frequently, especially when the score line is still narrow.

Steffen: In comparison to the first leg, it’s all about accuracy. Precision, Lahm has called it this week. It would be optimal if you would let Benfica come a little. They need that one goal. Who observed Guardiola, however, knows that it will not happen. Bayern will have the ball and play to win. I expect a similar game to the first leg.

Where lie the biggest threats in the return leg?

Steffen: Benfica’s attacking play was usually pretty simple. Wide balls that fall down from a great height and put the Bayern defense under pressure. This is unpleasant to defend . Especially without excellent header players in the own defense as in the first leg. Another reason why I hope that Martinez plays. Otherwise, I see a danger that the guys are impatient as long as it’s 0:0. Recently the calm and clarity went missing a little sometimes.

Justin: In my opinion, Bayern should “only” avoid to fall behind. It was visible in Barcelona, in Porto and in Turin, what an impact an intense oppositional crowd can have on the team. Bayern has to prevent that. From the opening whistle they should establish the necessary calm and control over the game. Recently there have been easy turnovers and these need to be minimized in the second leg. If the ball, however, is lost recklessly, it needs a good counterattack defense. Predestined for this is, of course, Arturo Vidal, whose skills in counter pressing even more important away from home. As long as it is 0-0, Bayern advance to the next round and confidence that the team will eventually score should be present. My thesis: If Bayern score the opening goal, they will reach the semi-final without any problem.

Martin: As Justin suggests, to fall behind must be avoided. In Turin the atmosphere after the first Juve goal was a decisive factor that we could not calm our game. Usually that is our strength, to control a game calm and focused until the chances arise. These we’ll have to use. If we fail, the Portuguese can make use of one of their counter-attacks. And then it will be very, very difficult.

Felix: As mentioned above, Benfica can only create danger with an early lead. A few years back I was in Lisbon at the stadium at a UEFA Cup match and I saw that the intense crowd can become a collection of pretty disgruntled fans pretty fast. Thus: Avoid to fall behind (early), then I’m not worried.

On the second page, the consequences of a possible elimination are discussed and predictions are made.

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