Bayern Munich versus Juventus is arguably the marquee clash of the quarter-finals of the Champions League this year. The analogies between the two clubs are numerous. Both are leaders in their respective domestic leagues, both are looking to stamp their authority across Europe once again, and both are known for forming the cores of their respective national teams.
Bayern will face a new challenge against Juventus this time as they will be facing the conundrum of the 3-5-2 formation, the bread and butter of nearly every Italian team in the Serie A, which has made the Bianconeri a near unstoppable force.
With Italy being the only country in Europe who has tinkered with the concept of a three-man defence at both domestic and national levels, the Germans have a real challenge on their hands to deal with the threat of Juventus' biggest strength, the five-man midfield.
Though the Old Lady's success can be owed to the efficiency of the central midfield trio of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo or MVP for short, the wingbacks in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah are one of the reasons why the MVP trio has had a free reign in the middle of the pitch.
Juventus' fullbacks a major threat
The role of a wing-back is one that requires immense stamina to bomb forward to support attacks and track back to help out the defence, both attributes which Lichsteiner and Asamoah possess in plenty.
Juventus's defence works in a remarkably different way. The three man backline spread to wider areas of the pitch when in possession which allows the wing-backs to make further runs into midfield and in doing so will require the opposition fullbacks to check their runs. In the case of Bayern, Lichtsteiner will find it harder against David Alaba as compared to Asamoah with Phillip Lahm, as the German captain is not known to deal with pace very well.
It is a sign of just how much the Ghanaian's industry is needed for Antonio Conte's side to function when it is seen that the Old Lady have only lost two of the 29 games that Asamoah has played in.
With an impressive passing accuracy of 89.1%, the former Udinese man has settled into this Juventus side with ease, especially after the problems Conte faced with Paolo de Ceglie's inability to play in the wing-back role.
|Asamoah has been a revelation for the Turin club|
Asamoah's Swiss teammate on the right-hand side of midfield is an equal threat. The former Lazio man has ensured that his team have only lost 3 of the 35 games that he has started in. With a passing accuracy of 82.8%, the 27-year old's bombarding runs down the right hand side will be the key source of width for this Juventus team to stretch the Bayern backline.
With David Alaba being the only one among Jupp Heynckes' first choice backline who is comfortable dealing with pace, Conte will look to exploit this weakness to his advantage. Heynckes will no doubt recognise this and will ask his wingers Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery to track back during counter attacks to help keep Bayern's defensive shape intact. However doubling up against Juve's fullbacks has not always worked against them.
The devastating effect the Juve wing-backs had when teams chose to double team the fullbacks was best exhibited in the Champions League game against European champions Chelsea at Turin in November 2012. With Cesar Azpilicueta stationed ahead of Branislav Ivanovic on the right to check the run of Asamoah, the Ghanaian gave both Chelsea players a torrid time. With Lichtsteiner tormenting Ashley Cole in the opposite wing, it ensured that the Chelsea fullbacks never had a chance to venture forward to support their attacking players.
Although Bayern are a much more defensively solid side than Chelsea, such reputations do not matter to Juventus who will look to use their midfield strength to pummel the opposition into submission.
Bayern's fullbacks - the Germans' key attacking channels
If Juventus are advocates of the 3-5-2 formation, Bayern Munich are one of many teams who are best suited to their 4-2-3-1 formation. With acres of space between the defence and attack in the wider areas of the pitch, a team employing such an approach resort to their fullbacks to bomb forward at every opportunity.
Phillip Lahm and David Alaba are fantastic exponents of this type of play. The duo work in tandem with the wingers Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery respectively to stretch the play as much as possible and at times cut inside to create chances.
It is not a coincidence that 74% of Bayern's attacks have come from the flanks. The Germans will look to bypass the Juventus central midfield trio who are adept at pressing and dispossessing their opponents in the middle of the park.
With a prolific frontman in Mario Mandzukic to aim for, Bayern's wide quartet will be the key sources of the team's attacks. With the Juventus fullbacks spending a vast majority of their time in the opposition half, the Germans will look to hit them with pace whenever possible.
|Alaba and Ribery are a potent threat down Bayern's left flank
Another feature of the Juventus defence that will work in Bayern's favour is that when the side is under pressure from the opposition, the three-man defence tends to stay very close to each other to maintain defensive stability which means that Asamoah and Lichtsteiner have to track back to cover the wider areas of the pitch which coincidentally is Bayern's strength.
Bayern Munich had a good time in London against Arsenal when Thomas Vermaelen was played on the left-side of Arsenal's defence. Though two of the Germans' three goals came from their right hand side, it certainly did not mean that the fullbacks are defensively solid.
With Lukas Podolski spending a majority of his time tracking back to help the defensively weak Vermaelen and Walcott being wasted centrally, Bayern's fullbacks had no challenge whatsoever in the first leg. The second leg in Munich saw a completely different Arsenal and an equally jittery Bayern. With Walcott getting the better of Alaba to set up Olivier Giroud's opener, Heynckes will surely know that his fullbacks would receive similar treatment against Juventus' high-octane fullbacks.
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