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View from the enemy: Can Chelsea stop Lewandowski, Müller, and Bayern’s wingers?

Q&A with Bavarian Football Works ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League Round of 16 first leg

FC Bayern Muenchen v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - DFB Cup Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Chelsea play 2012 Champions League finalists Bayern Munich on Tuesday in the first leg of our Round of 16 matchup, so we sat down with cross-network blog-friend ‘Ineednoname’ of Bavarian Football Works for a brief Q&A. Be sure to check out the reverse version, once it’s live, over on their site, where we talk injuries, gameplans, and Hudson-Odoi slam-poetry.

WAGNH: Looking for afar, Bayern don’t seem to be as dominant as over the past many years. Is that due to the team and the changes in personnel or has the rest of the Bundesliga caught up?

BFW: A little bit of everything. Bayern’s issues this season are due to the following:

  • Long term injuries to our main defenders in Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernández, leaving the defense in poor shape.
  • Niko Kovač’s poor tactics causing an early season dip from which the team has yet to recover points-wise.
  • A lack of depth in many positions, especially on the wings, leading to fatigue and injuries. This has been especially problematic since Hansi Flick took over, as Flick prefers a high-octane gegenpress over Kovač’s more traditional defensive game, which means more work for the players.
  • The Bundesliga is much stronger than in previous seasons. Last week, every single Bundesliga team beat their opponents in Europe (EL/CL). It wasn’t long ago when Bayern were the only team expected to go far; now Germany has a decent chance of three teams in the Champions League quarterfinals.

However, I do think Bayern have an excellent squad and a good manager, and we’re slowly getting our mojo back. And this upcoming Chelsea game means a lot more than a regular Round of 16 tie. Many of our players have contract extensions riding on this, and Hansi Flick needs a good display against Chelsea to be even considered for the head coach’s position come summer. Tuesday’s game is a very big deal.

WAGNH: So who is Hansi Flick and what sort of style has he implemented at Bayern since taking over? High-tempo, high-pressing, high-possession football is obviously in vogue these days, but what, if anything, is the team’s defining feature?

BFW: Hansi Flick is the former assistant coach of Joachim Low and the man who was the brains behind Germany’s World Cup win in 2014. He is tactically astute and loves gegenpressing, plus he is familiar with many of Bayern’s more unorthodox players (like Thomas Müller) as he coached them in the National Team.

Bayern’s defining feature continues to be wing-play. While we no longer have Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, Serge Gnabry is slowly coming into his own as a winger and Kingsley Coman has lots of talent. Alphonso Davies has been playing like a top fullback this season despite being only 19 years old, and has excellent attacking credentials being a natural winger. Benjamin Pavard is more conservative, but he still overlaps like a champ and has a mean cross (and the occasional banger of a goal) in his arsenal. These players are Bayern’s primary ball-progressors and attacking outlets. In every game, Bayern will use every inch of width on the pitch and stretch the field of play as much as possible, to give Lewandowski room to work his magic in the center.

But there’s also our trump card: Thomas Müller, the Raumdeuter. He was suspended against Liverpool in last season’s Round of 16, which probably cost us the tie. Müller has an uncanny ability to find space and be in exactly the right place at the right time. He exploits the gaps in ever opposition defense, always being where the ball isn’t, so he either draws a defender to allow one of his teammates to score or just scores himself because he isn’t being paid attention to. If he plays in his preferred position, Chelsea have to shut him down or he will run rampant.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Hannover 96 - Bundesliga Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images

WAGNH: Short of a black hole opening up and swallowing him whole, is there any way to stop Robert Lewandowski?

If Müller is next to him, then probably not. Your best bet is to choke his service from the flanks and keep your shape, then hope the goalkeeper saves the shots that get through. The only thing that can stop Lewandowski is his own lack of finishing or a potential injury to Bayern’s wingers. Even then, Lewandowski’s holdup play is world class, and if you focus too much on him then you leave space for the Raumdeuter to make his move.

WAGNH: Bayern did the treble the season after (plus the Super Cup against Chelsea), so we’re all good friends now, and no one will mention the 2012 Champions League final, right?

BFW: I have no idea what you’re taking about. There was no Champions League final in 2012.

WAGNH: Bayern fans seem quite confident, and it’s probably well placed, but what is the number one reason why you think Bayern will win (or lose, I suppose)?

BFW: We’re quite confident, but there is a bit of worry. Bayern have struggled to finish off games this season, starting brightly but fading after the initial push. A good example would be our recent game against Hoffenheim in the DFB Pokal, where we led 4-1 by the 80th minute. Hansi subbed Lewy and Müller to close the game out, but the team immediately collapsed and the game ended 4-3. More recently, our game against Paderborn shows that our defense is still frail and vulnerable to teams that want to attack, which is why we’re very worried about how Lampard plans to bypass our press.

Thanks again to ‘Ineednoname’ for the chat. May the best team win, as long as that’s Chelsea! Be sure to check out Bavarian Football Works in the meantime.

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