When Bayern Munich and Juventus face each other tonight in their Champions League quarterfinal first leg clash at the Allianz Arena in Munich, it will pit two of Europe’s most dynamic, complete midfields against each other.
Barring Barcelona – whose combination of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta is as perfect as you can get – the German and Italian giants possess a balance and class better than anyone else, including Real Madrid, that make them genuine challengers to win the Champions League.
Whoever wins the battle in the middle of the park will go a long way to influencing who progresses to the semi-final.
Bayern are being tipped by many to win Europe’s premier club competition, and their huge lead over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga table highlights what a terrific side they are.
While the defensive brilliance of Manuel Neuer, Dante and Philipe Lahm is to be admired, it is the trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Tony Kroos that hold the key to their success.
Martinez is actually suspended for the first leg, and although his replacement Luiz Gustavo will do a job, he is not on the same level as the elegant Spaniard. His return for the trip to Juventus Stadium will be vital for Jupp Heynckes’ side.
Schweinsteiger has been one of the world’s most complete central midfielders for several years now, and his ability to dictate a game but also drive forward is unique. He has huge experience in the big games now, and will be one of the key players in the tie.
Kroos will play at the top of the three behind striker Mario Mandzukic, and he has slowly become one of Bayern’s best players over the last year or two. Having initially struggled to force his way into the first-team, the 23-year old has matured greatly and is now also a key man for Germany.
A leading player in an exciting generation of German players, Kroos possesses great technical ability and an eye for the spectacular.
The Old Lady look set to win another Serie A title this season, and the focal point of their 3-5-2 formation is the relationship between Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio.
Pirlo is a truly wonderful footballer; the best playmaker of his generation, alongside Xavi. Despite approaching his 34th birthday there is no sign of letting up from the Italian. He has never been a player who relies of pace, so if his legs are going slightly it’s not as big an issue compared to it happening to a winger or a full-back.
He has unrivalled vision and is a joy to watch. Bayern would be advised to give Kroos the job of sticking close to him throughout the game because, as England found out at Euro 2012, if you stand off him he will destroy you.
Marchisio and Vidal are very much the engine of the side, and their box-to-box style is the perfect foil for Pirlo. While neither are the most pleasing on the eye, they are mighty effective.
Marchisio was terrific at Celtic Park in the last round, capping off a relentless performance with a goal. He has cited English players Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as huge influences, and there are definite similarities to both in his game, particularly the ability to score from midfield.
There have been rumours emerging that Paul Pogba may play instead of the 27-year-old, but breaking up a winning formula would be a gamble by coach Antonio Conte.
Vidal is more tenacious in style than Marchisio and is a very important player for Juventus. In many ways the 25-year-old Chilean is the complete midfielder: he can tackle, shoot, pass long and short and run with the ball.
The likelihood is he will be playing opposite Gustavo, and with the Bayern man a potential weak link in place of Martinez, Vidal could play a very important role over the two legs.
Bayern v Juventus: Who is better?
There is no doubting that both Bayern Munich and Juventus are blessed with excellent midfields, and with both sides lacking a truly world-class striker and also containing formidable defences, the central battle holds the key to who progresses.
It is a very tough call as to who is better, but if push came to shove Bayern, with Martinez in the side, would just edge it because of slightly better technical ability and balance. The gap in quality is minimal though.