Is the Champions League now Bayern’s to lose?

FC Bayern Muenchen v FC Basel 1893 - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

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There was a palpable feeling of inevitability as Mario Mandzukic slotted home Bayern Munich’s killer first away goal against Juventus on Wednesday night. They had simply been the best team on the night just as they were eight days earlier at the Allianz Arena, proving worthy 2-0 winners in both legs. And if the oft-used phrase ‘the best team won’ is to be uttered at Wembley on May 25, then surely it will be die Roten lifting the Champions League trophy aloft.

Over the last two midweeks, the Bavarian giants have once more shown everybody that they are the best team in Europe right now and must surely be considered as the favourites to win this season’s competition.

Many observers are too quick to automatically install Barcelona as favourites simply because they are still in the competition but, just as was the case 12 months ago, the Blaugranahave shown significant frailties of late that most are willing to overlook simply because Lionel Messi wears blue and red.

Yet those same critics are all-too-willing to rule out Bayern as serious front-runners because of nothing more than the events of years gone by. Very few give credence to the idea that the German champions may simply be more driven and more determined as a result of last season’s final defeat to Chelsea, as well as the participation of many of their players in Germany’s no-show against Italy in the Euro 2012 semi-final which followed soon after.

Hard evidence tells us that Bayern are the continent’s most in-form side. While the more pragmatic Real Madrid are shaping up for a serious run at La Decima, it is die Roten who truly have the team to fear. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and a backline including the likes of Philipp Lahm, Dante and David Alaba will be difficult for even Messi to contemplate breaching, especially given the support and direction ahead of them which dictates that Bayern spend little of their time without the ball in most games.

In possession, they are frightening, showing an ability to play at high speed for long periods. With the industry and artistry of Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger feeding the forever-threatening front four, consisting at various times of top quality players like Mandzukic, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, they are simply the most formidable all-round unit in the European game as it stands.

The fear is that they will not get the praise they deserve for just how good they are unless they are triumphant in north-west London in six weeks’ time. If they fail again, they will simply be written off as the lovable, laughable nearly-men that some critics are too quick to want to label them as.

But the reality is very different and if a fifth Champions League triumph is what it takes for them to receive the headlines that they have earned with their magnificent football this term let us all hope that is what they achieve. In realistic terms, it is now Bayern’s trophy to lose.

Read the complete article by Kris Voakes at Goal.com. Meanwhile, Richard Farley analyzes the Bavarian team to see what lies in store for them in their bid to lift the UCL trophy once again:

…We’re evaluating Bayern. Yes, they look good, and yes, they’re probably the favorites, but where are the cracks? What are the points Jurgen Klopp, José Mourinho, and Jordi Roura can exploit to send the Bavarians crashing?

Here’s what we found out:

  • Attack: The loss of Toni Kross means that Thömas Müller will play through the middle while Arjen Robben starts wide. Can Müller be the orchestrator Bayern may need over the next three games? And will Robben been good Arjen? Or bizarro, make sure the people in the 16th row are wearing helmets, Robben? 
  • Defense: Bayern’s only allowed 13 goals in 24 Bundesliga matches, but that ratio has increased to 10 in 10 in Champions League. While that’s still an impressive total, detractors can look at a group that included BATE, Lille, and Valencia and wonder how much FCB were tested. Against Juventus they kept two clean sheets, but against Arsenal in the Round of 16, Bayern conceded three times. Nobody’s expecting a complete breach of their defenses, but against the attacks present in the semifinals, Bayern’s defensive record may not hold up. 
  • And beyond: This is where the acquisition of Javi Martínez is supposed to pay off. His ability on the ball, value bursting forward, and defender’s presence at the base of midfield gives Bayern a dimension they lacked in their last two finals runs. The question is whether those qualities will come through in this packed final four. 
  • Preferred matchups: Nobody should scare Bayern, but Barcelona represents an unknown. Whereas they have Dortmund’s number and beat Real Madrid in last year’s semifinals, this core hasn’t faced Barcelona. FCB may prefer to take embrace what they know and get Dortmund in the semifinals, Real Madrid in the final.
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