LONDON: Bayern Munich’s form in the Champions League is formidable going into their last 16 first leg at Lazio on Tuesday but in contrast to a recent domestic wobble which has opened up the Bundesliga title race.
Hansi Flick’s men have taken just one point from their last two outings before visiting Rome while at the same time stuttering La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid host Chelsea — though in Bucharest due to coronavirus travel restrictions in Spain.
Budapest is again home-away-from-home for a German side for the same reason on Wednesday as Borussia Moenchengladach host high-flying Manchester City while record European champions Real Madrid visit Atalanta.
Bayern coach Hansi Flick insisted his side will be alert from the start at Lazio to avoid the mistakes they made in their recent two Bundesliga games.
Bayern have won six titles in the past nine months but have stumbled in their last two league matches with a 3-3 draw against visiting Arminia Bielefeld and a 2-1 defeat on Saturday by Eintracht Frankfurt.
Both times Bayern fell two goals behind and had to battle their way back into the game, as has so often been the case this season.
“I want my team to be switched on from the start and I have total confidence they will do that at Lazio,” Flick said in Monday’s press conference. “We know what has happened in the past days. We have an idea of how we want to play and we have to do that from the start.”
Flick, who is missing several key players to injury or Covid-19 infections including Corentin Tolisso and Thomas Mueller, needs some good news after seeing a seven-point lead in the Bundesliga slashed to two in less than a week.
“I will not be using any excuses. The first half against Bielefeld and against Frankfurt were not good. But we can be satisfied with the second half,” Flick said. “When the Champions League starts we have to be in top form. But looking at the past weeks there has been a lot of matches, a lot of strain on the team and some players missing.”
Bayern had little pre-season last summer and their 2019-20 treble brought extra commitments including a trip to Doha for the Club World Cup — which they won earlier this month.
The holders are nearly two years unbeaten in the Champions League, winning 16 and drawing once since losing to Liverpool in the 2019 round of 16 second leg.
Lazio are in good form ahead of their first appearance in the knockout stage for 20 years. The Italian club struggled more than expected against Sampdoria but saw out a 1-0 win to claim their seventh victory in eight Serie A matches.
Atletico arrive for their match against Chelsea after having lost their shine La Liga with only one win in its last four rounds.
“I am not looking for excuses, we have to find solutions,” said coach Diego Simeone, who is without injured defender Jose Gimenez.
Coronavirus positives have reduced their options recently but players are gradually returning.
Chelsea are only fifth in the Premier League but unbeaten under new coach Thomas Tuchel and looking to improve on four consecutive last 16 eliminations — most recently a 7-1 aggregate humbling to Bayern.
“It’s a big test. They’re an experienced club at this level, [have] an experienced coach. Hopefully it brings out the best in us,” Tuchel told Monday’s news conference.
“It’s clear when you play against Atletico what you get. You get hard fighting and there are many teams who have experienced this.”
City are also in top form as they charge towards the Premier League title. They are unbeaten in their past 25 games across all competitions, winning 22.
The Premier League title is seemingly a formality now, thanks to a 10-point lead. Pep Guardiola can really start to focus on the Champions League where a title has proved elusive despite the club’s heavy spending over the last decade.
Gladbach are winless in four in the Bundesliga and a strong season is threatening to unravel in light of coach Marco Rose announcing he’ll join Borussia Dortmund next term.
Real are hoping that Karim Benzema will be fit to play on Wednesday after he missed the weekend win over Valladolid with an abductor injury, and are definitely without Fede Valverde, Rodrygo Goes, Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, Marcelo and Alvaro Odriozola.
Atalanta are again in the knock-out stage of the elite event reaching the quarter-finals in their debut last season.
“It’s a two-leg affair and we would like to be into the game in Madrid,” coach Gian Piero Gasperini said.
City and Real have their home legs on March 16 with Bayern and Chelsea hosting a day later. The final is May 29 in Istanbul.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2021