Inter Milan – Bayern München – A Champions League Preview

Serie A Weekly and the Bundesliga Fanatic, both members of the OwnGoalNetwork, have joined forces to give readers a thorough preview of the upcoming Champions League match between Inter and Bayern Munich. Cris Nyari gives his analysis from a Bundesliga perspective while David Schiavone weighs in from the vantage point of Serie A for this exciting first leg match up.

As soon as the draws were announced, Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said, “this is now our chance to take revenge” while deputy Chairman Karl Hopfner reminded everyone that, “we have a score to settle…” No doubt that Bayern are fired up and have something to prove. “Revenge” is the inevitable media billing here but pride and redemption cannot be overlooked and are very much at stake here as well.

Inter have the chance to cement their superiority over the opposition once more,but this time they don’t have Jose Mourinho to help them. Unlike their opponents a lot has changed at Appiano Gentile since that famous cup win in May.

Leonardo

Rafa Benitez has been and gone, leaving the inexperienced Leonardo to lead the Nerazzurri into battle. Under the Spaniard’s stewardship the current European Champions only managed a second place finish behind Champions League debutants Tottenham Hotspur, while Louis van Gaal’s team had their best ever group stage finish this season, comfortably topping their group with two games to spare.

Bayern are trying to follow-up last year’s successful run to the final, their first in over 10 years and one considered as the symbolic arrival of Bayern as a force in Europe after a bit of a hiatus. Crashing out early would surely diminish last season’s accomplishments so this fixture is an early test for the preexisting expectations of this club.

There is also the added pressure of maintaining that success and continuing to build on it because next year’s Champions League final will take place at their own stadium in Munich. Bayern boss Uli Hoeness stated that Bayern simply must be in that final.
While Inter are coming off the back of their most successful year since the 1960’s and while they may have reached the pinnacle of the teams achievements, no one has ever retained the Champions League, but they may feel they are the team to do it.

Besides last season’s final and 2006’s group stage matches, Bayern have played Inter only once in a two-legged tie. That was back in the 1988/89 Uefa Cup third round. Inter won the first leg of that tie in Munich 2-0 until a spectacular comeback in Milan saw Bayern advance. The Germans scored three goals in eight minutes and went through on away goals, winning 3-1.

On the domestic front this year has been tough for both teams. After a difficult start, Van Gaal’s team has been on a fine run of form domestically, losing just once in their last 8 matches in which they have averaged 3.25 goals a game.Along with Dortmund, Bayern have the league’s best offense (49 goals) and third best defense (27).

While in Serie A, Inter also endured a difficult period at the start of the season but since Leonardo has taken over Inter have only been beaten twice in all competitions, both defeats came in Serie A against Udinese and Juventus, also scoring an impressive 30 goals in the 13 they have played since Leonardo’s inception.

Their record at home to German sides is also formidable; they’ve won 10, drawn 1 and lost 4, a good omen for this upcoming match. Meanwhile Bayern’s overall record on Italian soil is 4 wins, 2 draws and 9 losses. Their last win in Italy came against Juventus (4-1) in December 2009.

Bayern’s recent match against Hoffenheim was the first to feature both Robben and Ribery from the start in over 9 months, a telling fact of the severity of Bayern’s injury problems this season.

Louis van Gaal
Van Gaal has had to shuffle the squad multiple times to accommodate the continuous stream of injuries and absences. Schweinsteiger had to be moved from his preferred central midfield spot to the advanced playmaker position while defensive midfielder Tymoshchuk has played most of the season in central defense.

Their defense has also been in constant rotation all season, a big reason for their defensive frailty and tendency to leak goals rather unnecessarily. Badstuber recently returned from injury and has been paired with Tymoshchuk but before that there were numerous permutations of Bayern’s backline. In total, Van Gaal fielded 13 different backlines throughout the season.

Inter have also had injury problems to face this year with Walter Samuel being ruled out for the season and plenty of niggling injuries to key players such as Maicon, Wesley Sneijder and Lucio, though the Brazilian centre-back has declared himself fit for the tie against his old side.

That news could come as a blessing as his replacement would have been Andrea Ranocchia who has his issues when faced with pace. Clearly still learning the game, he could well be exposed if Robben or Ribery were his opponents.

Bayern will likely breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Diego Milito will not play a part in the first leg as he is out with a thigh injury, also knowing that Giampoalo Pazzini is also ineligible as he played in the Europa League with Sampdoria meaning Inter only have Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev as recognized strikers.

Tactically, Louis van Gaal has opted for a 4-2-3-1 this season, a shift from the preferred 4-4-2/4-2-4 last year. Done mainly to accommodate Mario Gomez.  Bayern’s record signing had an underwhelming debut season last year and much of that was due to a system that did not necessarily suit him.

Thus van Gaal has streamlined Bayern’s attacking game, providing Gomez with the service he needs. The 4-2-3-1 points at the top like an arrow and Gomez in this setup receives help from all over the field. 27 goals in 32 matches in all competition is proof that this tactical adjustment has proven successful.

Leonardo on the other hand has gone primarily for a three man attack, but with the lack of options as mentioned he may change to a 4-3-1-2, but his attacking tendencies are very much apparent, so we could see Coutinho being drafted in on the left side, leaving Pandev on the right with Eto’o in his preferred central striker role.

You often hear that games are won and lost in the center of the pitch and that is the strong point of this formation. In the compact and competitive Champions League the center of the field is the key to winning and losing games.

Schweinsteiger has been key for Bayern in the center and the new formation allows him to join in attack as well as drop back when necessary, while Inter have the ever dependable Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso protecting the defence, while Thiago Motta has become key as both a defensive lynchpin whilst also supporting the attacks leading to him grabbing a fair amount of goals.

Though the formation Bayern play suits wide players and with the likes of Gustavo, Lahm, Ribery and Robben, Bayern have some of the better fullbacks and wingers in Europe. It allows for overlapping fullbacks to provide the width and the inverted wingers to act as quasi forwards.

This could stop the attacking threat of Maicon who at times is Inter’s only wide outlet.

In last year’s final, the absence of Ribery put a lot of pressure on Robben to provide much of the creativity and momentum. Inter doubled up on him much of the time and Altintop was an inadequate replacement. The use of Ribery and Robben will be crucial to Bayern’s chances to progress.

Both teams go into the tie having won their last 4 and drawn 1. They have also both struggled with their own transition this season and are attempting to live up to last year’s success. All in all, it should make for one of the more interesting match ups in the Round of 16.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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