Bayern Munich continue their defence of the Uefa Champions League when they travel to Lazio in the round-of-16 first leg on Tuesday at 8pm.
The Bavarians cruised their way through Group A, finishing in first place above Atletico Madrid, RB Salzburg and Lokomotiv Moscow with 16 points from a possible 18. Lazio meanwhile finished second behind Borussia Dortmund in Group F, drawing four of their six games but remaining unbeaten in this season’s competition so far.
Given their status as German, European and World champions — as well as DFB-Pokal, European Super Cup and German Super Cup holders — Bayern are understandably 8/11 favourites with Sky Bet to win this match, while Lazio can be backed as 10/3 outsiders. (18+ only. Odds correct at time of publication. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.)
But Lazio are on the rise in Serie A and enjoyed a solid group stage campaign and Hansi Flick will be well aware of the challenge that awaits him.
Can Bayern’s width force a shootout?
No side has scored more than Bayern Munich’s 18 goals in this season’s Champions League and given the sheer firepower at their disposal, that’s hardly surprising. A team packed with pace, it’s also not a shock to see them top the pile when it comes to fast breaks (six) and shots from fast breaks (five).
But despite scoring just 11 goals themselves in the Champions League this season, Lazio are equally effective on the counter with five fast breaks themselves, each of which has resulted in a shot, drawing them level with Bayern as competition leaders in this metric.
However, that expansive style comes at a price for Lazio. For example, against their fellow Serie A sides which qualified for the Champions League last season (Juventus, Inter Milan and Atalanta), the Biancocelesti have conceded a combined 13 goals in six games across all competitions, while they’re yet to keep a clean sheet in Europe this season. Simone Inzaghi plays with a back-five but due to Manuel Lazzari and Adam Marusic’s love of pushing aggressively high at wing-back, two of his centre-backs are often tasked with covering wide areas.
This leaves Lazio ripe for Bayern’s picking. Even with Serge Gnabry missing, Flick’s side possess eye-watering pace in the final third with Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane manning the flanks. What’s more, Alphonso Davies is one of the fastest players in Europe right now and needs no second invitation to join the attack from left-back.
Bayern have the potential to not only create numerical advantages in wide areas — effectively pinning Lazio’s wing-backs — but also stretch their Italian opponents with that width, drawing out centre-backs and leaving space for the lethal Robert Lewandowski. Lazio’s Ciro Immobile might have outscored Lewandowski in the Champions League this season (five to three), but across all competitions in 2020/21, the Poland international has a quite ridiculous 31 goals in 30 games across all competitions.
Lazio are a considerable attacking threat and Immobile would usually give them the edge against most opponents. However, Bayern, complete with Lewandowski, Coman and Co, are no usual opponent. In a straight shootout, you would have to back the Bavarians to win. While Inzaghi will look to adjust to avoid this scenario, Flick will likely be doing all he can to force Tuesday’s match wide open.
Flick looking to avoid burnout as schedule piles up
Though still top of the Bundesliga, Bayern have seen their lead over RB Leipzig cut to just two points after a 3-3 draw with Arminia Bielefeld and, most recently, a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt. These poor results come off the back of the Bavarians’ successful Club World Cup campaign, where the German and European champions beat Al Ahly (2-0) and Tigres (1-0) to bring home another title, and it would appear Bayern’s busy schedule is starting to catch up with them.
“We know what has happened in the past days,” said Flick ahead of Tuesday’s match. “Against Lazio I want us to be there as a team from the start.
“We have an idea of how we want to play and we have to do that from the start.”
Bayern’s plight is not helped by the fact that the likes of Gnabry, Thomas Muller, Benjamin Pavard and Corentin Tolisso are all ruled out of this match.
On the ‘strain’ of Bayern’s recent schedule, Flick added: “When the Champions League starts we have to be in top form. But looking at the past weeks there have been a lot of matches, a lot of strain on the team and some players missing.”
If Lazio can stay solid defensively, it could allow them to unleash their famously effective counter-attacks on a tired, patched-up Bayern. This is arguably the German side’s only weakness right now and it’s an underbelly Flick will be keen to leave well protected in Rome.