It’s Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich, Round 2 this evening, as the sides meet again at Estadio Vicente Calderon. Touted as the game to watch in Champions League matchday two (if we don’t say so ourselves), this partidazo features Bayern’s star-studded attack against a defense that has conceded two goals in all competitions this season. We talked to Davis Van Opdorp of Bavarian Football Works as part of our preview for this showdown between los rojiblancos and die Rekordmeister.
Q: So here we are again, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich doing battle in the group stage this time. However, it will not be Diego Simeone vs. Pep Guardiola, but Simeone vs. Carlo Ancelotti. What have been the most notable changes in this Bayern Munich team with Ancelotti in charge?
A: The biggest change I would say is the freedom with which Bayern play now. Ancelotti has kept things much simpler, switching like-for-like in most instances of squad selections and substitutions. Franck Ribery has already raved at how much freedom he has now, and his early season form suggests that he is enjoying playing under Ancelotti. Ryan Cowper, one of my BFW colleagues, wrote about how much fun it is to watch Bayern Munich again, and that is probably how a lot of fans are feeling at the moment.
Q: In your mind, is this Bayern side *the* favorite to win the Champions League? Why or why not?
A: It's hard to say. Bayern have been one of the favorites consistently in recent years, but after coming up short in three semifinals, it's hard for one to suggest they are *the* favorite. Real Madrid are probably *the* favorite until Cristiano Ronaldo decides to leave Madrid, especially since they've won the thing twice in the last three years. That said, Bayern are probably one of *the* two favorites to get to the final, especially since they have been perfect in the first eight games of the season.
Q: Is this the most important game of the group stage for Bayern?
A: The obvious answer is "yes" considering these are clearly the two best teams in the group. But the games against the other teams is often what decides places in the group stage rather than games between the top teams. Bayern have lost games to Manchester City and Arsenal in the group stage in past years and still have won their group comfortably. They could easily lose this game in Madrid, but if they win convincingly against PSV Eindhoven and in their trip to Rostov then they could still win the group on goal difference on the final matchday. However, Bayern would certainly like to continue their unbeaten run, and if they are able to rewrite history and get all three points in Madrid, they certainly will be much more comfortable with how their season is playing out.
Q: Under Guardiola, Bayern struggled away from Munich in the Champions League and really had problems playing well in Spain. Ancelotti has not won at the Vicente Calderon since February 2014. What is the formula for a win at the Calderon on Wednesday?
A: The key for Bayern's success is how they perform in the midfield. When Bayern were struggling against Schalke two weeks ago, Ancelotti made two midfield substitutions that turned the game around. Winning the midfield is never easy against Atleti, they also seem to do better when they are winning one-on-one match-ups on the wings, which is why I personally think Arjen Robben will start his first game of the season. I also think Bayern will not try to be as ball-dominating as Guardiola's team was, which may help create more space than they had last season.
Q: Which Bayern player(s) will be key Wednesday?
A: If I had to pick one, it is definitely Arturo Vidal. He is one of the players that has gotten more freedom under Ancelotti and, in my eyes, he has returned to the player that dominated midfields in Italy. He has this lethal combination of ball-winning ability, passing and finishing that no other player in the world has. The other player worth mentioning, although he may not be a "key" player, is Xabi Alonso. He no longer has the athleticism of a younger man, but the way he takes defenders out of the game with his passing is really important, especially if Bayern want to get more space on the wings.
Q: What will the XI look like?
A: The BFW team actually made their predictions already, but here's mine: Neuer - Lahm, Martinez, Boateng, Alaba - Vidal, Alonso - Robben, Müller, Ribery - Lewandowski.
Q: Scoreline prediction?
A: I'm going with an entertaining 1-1 draw. These two teams are very evenly matched, but I don't know if there will be the kind of incredible run from Saul Niguez to separate the two teams. The return leg in Munich probably will decide who wins the group.