It has been an extraordinary season for Bayern Munich. Last Saturday, they created history by winning their 23rd Bundesliga title with six games to spare, thanks to a 20 point deficit between themselves and second placed Borussia Dortmund.
Their focus has now turned to the Champions League and Bayern’s president, Uli Hoeness, has reiterated his desire to bring Europe’s premier club trophy back to Bavaria, “the Champions League is the best in the world and we want to win it.” Last season, Bayern reached the final (held in Munich), but gut-wrenchingly lost on penalties to Chelsea.
Currently standing in their path and a place in the final four are Italian giants Juventus. Similar to Bayern, the Biaconeri is the best supported and the most successful club domestically (Milan have won more European Cups / Champions League titles). This is a true battle of historical European heavyweights. Bayern were convincing 2-0 winners in the first-leg held in Munich last week.
It is not an exaggeration to say the Old Lady’s rise from the Calciopoli ashes has been nothing short of incredible. Antonio Conte’s men had chalked up an 18 game unbeaten run in Europe before they faced Bayern. Also, they currently occupy the summit of Serie A (as defending champions), leading Napoli in second place by nine points.
Paul Pogba, the 20 year-old French central midfielder, has attributed much of this to his coach Conte, and complemented his managerial skills comparing them favourably to that of Sir Alex Ferguson. “I have had two coaches who demand determination and ruthlessness. They are both very tough to please, both perfectionists.”
Pogba caused an uproar at Old Trafford last season by seeing out his contract and moving for free to Turin. From being a fringe first team player at Manchester United, he has blossomed into Conte’s well-drilled unit and Wednesday night, lining up alongside talismanic Andrea Pirlo, represents the biggest night of his short career to date – particularly if he can inspire a Juve comeback.
Midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini gave this stark assessment of what lies ahead. “They (Bayern) have won the championship, they have a two-goal advantage and they are one of the strongest teams in the world, but we will give everything and try to overturn the result.”
Ironically, it could be the memory of Ferguson’s 1998/99 treble chasers that ignite Conte’s men. Conte himself was in Juventus’ midfield that famous night in Turin when Filippo Inzaghi gave the Italians a 2-0 lead (3-1 on aggregate) inside 20 minutes, only for United to famously turn the tie on its head and run out 3-2 winners.
Impossible is nothing.
Juventus vs Bayern Munich (Wednesday 19.45 AET)