Long overdue for their first real challenge of the season, Bayern Munich look to put aside their recent struggles in Spain as they seek an early foothold atop Group D of the Champions League on Wednesday at Atletico Madrid in Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Bayern have steamrolled all of their competitors to date, winning their six matches by a combined 24-1 scoreline after last Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Hertha Berlin in a top-two Bundesliga showdown of 3-0 teams. Franck Ribery opened the scoring just after the quarter-hour before strikes from Thiago and Arjen Robben in a four-minute span midway through the second half put the match out of reach.
Robben, making his first appearance for Bayern since suffering an adductor injury in March, bagged his 78th goal in 143 appearances for the club and was grateful for the warm reception he received on his entry for Thomas Muller in the 65th minute.
“I felt goosebumps when I came on,” the Dutch international told Bayern’s official website, scoring with his trademark left foot after a cut to the inside. “It was a nice moment. I worked hard for that … I’m really happy.”
The victory also moved Bayern atop the Bundesliga table as they have taken the maximum 12 points from their four matches, outscoring foes 14-1. Carlo Ancelotti, seeking to become the first manager to win four Champions League titles, is also the first coach to guide seven different teams in the prestigious club tournament.
Defender Jerome Boateng made his first start of the season as Ancelotti continued to rotate his players to help them recover from a stomach bug that plagued them last week. The manager was pleased with his team’s performance, noting they “played well from the first minute with quality and intensity.”
But leaving the friendly confines of Bavaria for Spain has proven a tricky proposition for Bayern in recent years. They have failed to score in their last three matches there _ including last year’s 1-0 reverse at Vicente Calderon in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals. They also lost 3-0 to Barcelona in 2015 and 1-0 to Real Madrid in 2014, contributing to a woeful 2-2-9 mark in their last 13 matches against Spanish opponents.
Ancelotti, though, is plenty familiar with Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone through many derbies while coaching Real Madrid. Ancelotti is 4-4-5 lifetime head-to-head against the Argentine, highlighted by a 4-1 victory in extra time to win the 2014 Champions League and give Real their long-sought “Decima.”
Ribery’s form _ he has two goals and five assists in his last five matches _ makes him a near-certainty to start versus Atletico Madrid in Bayern’s 4-3-3 formation along with Muller and Robert Lewandowski in attack. They both scored in Bayern’s 5-0 rout of FC Rostov to open group play Sept. 13, while midfielder Joshua Kimmich had a second-half brace in that contest.
(Photo credit: AFP/Christof Stache)
Kimmich sat out the win over Hertha, but is expected to be back in the starting midfield with Thiago and Arturo Vidal. Ancelotti also appears to have all of his first-choice regulars on the backline available after Mats Hummels, who missed the win over Ingolstadt, spelled Boateng for the final 27 minutes Wednesday.
Like Bayern, Atletico had their own mid-week match and ground out a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou against Barcelona on Wednesday. Angel Correa, who had entered the match as a substitute just seconds before, netted the equaliser just after the hour to cancel out Ivan Rakitic’s first-half goal for Barca.
(Photo Credit: AFP/Pau Barrena)
It was just the second goal conceded in six matches across all competitions for Los Colchoneros, who are bidding to make the Champions League final for the third time in four years. Simeone was encouraged by his team’s performance in the final 45 minutes as they answered the challenge to emerge with a hard-earned point against the Catalans.
“it is always difficult to draw anything positive from Camp Nou,” he told Atletico’s official website. “In the first half we defended well but could not counter. The goal in the second half made us react. In the second half we are much more dangerous.”
(Photo Credit: Unknown)
It’s that sort of counterattacking nous which served Atletico well last year in advancing past Bayern in the two-legged semifinals on the away goal tiebreaker, with Antoine Griezmann scoring in the 54th minute of their 2-1 defeat at Allianz Arena after blanking the Bavarians 1-0 at Vicente Calderon. Bayern had the run of play for most of those two matches, amassing a 54-18 advantage in shots _ including 19-9 on target.
The match also showcased Atletico’s depth, an underrated feature of the La Liga side. Correa and fellow substitute Fernando Torres combined on the goal, and the duo could feature again if Simeone opts to include them at the expense of Saul and Kevin Gameiro.
There likely will be at least one change to the team that beat PSV Eindhoven as Stefan Savic has supplanted Jose Gimenez as Diego Godin’s partner in central defence. Stefan made his second straight start for Atleli on Wednesday, and aside from the early goal conceded, the Montenegro international played well. Juanfran and Luis served as the wide backs in Atletico’s 4-4-2 formation, with Juanfran returning to the lineup after sitting out Atleli’s 5-0 romp past Sporting di Gijon.
“The tie is fair,” Juanfran said after the match at Camp Nou. “We always want to win but taking into account the team we are playing, the players they have, and that it’s at their home, it’s a good draw, even better because of how the match went.”
Ballon d’Or finalist and European Championship Golden Boot winner Griezmann did everything but score against Barcelona and is hoping to find his scoring touch. His four goals this season have come in two matches, and the France international is out to build on his stellar play in last season’s Champions League in which he netted seven goals, good for fifth among all players.
Prior to last season, the only other meetings between the sides came in 1974, when Bayern won a replay 4-0 in Brussels to claim the European Champions Clubs’ Cup.