It wouldn’t be a soccer season in Munich if Bayern weren’t being subjected to more psychoanalysis than praise.
After Christmas, the knives came out, rumors were rife that personnel changes were in store, and the doomsayers were in full voice.
Heading into Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal, second leg match against Marseille in their Allianz Arena, the German powerhouse not only is on course for a high-profile semifinal showdown with Real Madrid, but also in the hunt for a treble that seemed far-fetched at best three months ago.
Bayern will start the second leg with a 2-0 advantage over the French, who showed so little punch while losing their home tie that a reversal of fortune in this match seems most unlikely.
Then, after a weekend match against Augsburg, Bayern have a battle for the top of the Bundesliga when they travel to Borussia Dortmund next Wednesday, with a mind to completely close the gap on the leaders. After their weekend win over Nurnberg, again inspired by Arjen Robben, Bayern are just three points off the pace and playing the best soccer in Germany.
There’s a DFB Pokal (German Cup) final date as well — also against Borussia Dortmund — and if everything goes right, Bayern could be hosting the Champions League final this May.
While that’s getting ahead of the story, Tuesday night’s game has the look of a formality. After all, Bayern has won 12 of its last 13 home Champions League matches and this year they have run off five in a row. Even though Marseille has won on German soil this campaign, rallying to defeat Dortmund on the final day of group play and secure their knockout stage, there was nothing in their first leg performance to suggest a repeat is possible.
In France, even though the Marseille defense contained Franck Ribery, there was no answer for the Robben-Mario Gomez tandem that produced the goals; Robben, especially, bedeviled the French defenders. If he is, indeed, looking to move on to another club during the summer transfer window, the Dutch star has picked the perfect shop window to showcase his wares. Gomez is chasing Lionel Messi for the goal-scoring lead in Europe after a campaign when he has been brutally efficient at the top of the Bavarians’ attack.
Bayern will be conscious of the fact that they were on the wrong end of a second leg tie against Inter Milan a year ago, losing 3-2 after winning in Milan and thereby becoming only the second team in Champions League history to fail to advance after winning a first leg away match. With that in mind, expect the Germans to be keenly focused, especially during the opening stages when Marseille surely must throw everything at them in an attempt to get back in the contest.
Jupp Heynckes’ side is also fully fit. In fact, they welcomed back Diego Contento after he had missed nearly three months with a broken toe on Saturday. Also, Daniel Van Buyten has been sidelined since Jan. 20 but hardly missed as Bayern has surged. Bastian Schweinsteiger is suspended, but he has been playing a relief role following a long injury spell.
Marseille, however, are struggling. They did not play at the weekend, a match with league-leading Montpellier put back to next Wednesday to give them preparation time. They’re without Souleymane Diawara (torn ACL), while star forward Andre Ayew (shoulder injury) is willing to put off shoulder surgery in order to soldier on the Champions League campaign. Alou Diarra is suspended to further add to coach Didier Deschamps’ selection issues.
Adding to Marseille’s woes is the course their season has taken. While Bayern dreams of a treble, the French are ninth in Ligue 1, outside of any European spot for next season. A loss in this tie and Deschamps will no doubt be looking at summer of change on the Riviera.