Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich
First Leg: Estadio Jose Alvalade, Wednesday, February 25 2009.
Second Leg: Allianz Arena, Tuesday, March 10 2009.
It’s easy to discount Bayern Munich’s chances for a deep run in the Knockout Round of the Champions League. Bayern Munich got off to a rough start under new manager Jurgen Klinsmann. They only won two out of their first seven Bundesliga matches, and were humiliated by Werder Bremen (losing 5-2).
Conflicts between management and players, such as Luca Toni and want-away Euro 2008 star Lukas Podolski, have dominated the headlines, while star midfielders Frank Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger continue to draw interest from other teams. They returned to the Champions League this season after spending last season toiling in the UEFA Cup, which may be why they weren’t seen as much of a threat.
Whether Bayern are poised to defy the expectations by making a deep run in the Champions League depends on which team shows up. They lost to Hertha on February 14, which put them into fourth place in the Bundesliga, and were criticized by Franz Beckenbauer (as he is wont to do). However, their European form has been excellent thus far. They were unbeaten in the group stage and picked up an impressive 3-2 victory at Lyon. They have two world-class strikers in Miroslav Klose and Toni (three, if you count Podolski – but Klinsmann doesn’t), one of the best playmaking midfielders in Ribery, a couple of dynamic midfielders in Schweinsteiger and Ze Roberto, and world class defenders in Philipp Lahm, Lucio, and MartÃn Demichelis. And, for American fans, they will have Landon Donovan available, at least for this tie.
Not many people are giving Sporting much of a chance in this matchup. Their domestic form has been erratic this season, and they’re currently in fourth place (although, going into the 18th week of the season, they’re only four points behind the leaders). They’ve lost to both of their rivals, Benfica and Porto, and haven’t won in the league since January 10th. During the Group Stage of the Champions League, it was either feast or famine for Sporting. They lost twice to Barcelona by a combined score of 8-3, but kept clean sheets against Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk, looking very much like a team that’s capable of beating bad teams but incapable of doing much against quality opposition.
Then again, Bayern Munich would be wise not to overlook Sporting in this matchup. Sporting have always had a reputation as a breeding ground for young talent, and this squad is no different. Defensive midfielder Miguel Veloso is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, and recently rejected advances from Newcastle and Bolton. Ronny is a rising star and free-kick specialist who has one of the hardest shots in the world. Bruno Pereirinha, Daniel Carriço, and Adrien Silva are all U-21 stars that have broken into the first team and bear watching. Sporting also have a number of Portuguese internationals, including skipper João Moutinho, Hélder Postiga, and Marco Caneira. If they show the form that gave them four clean sheets in the Group Stage, then they could surprise some people. If not, then they’ll struggle.
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