For the past decade Valencia have been unable to replicate the form from their glory years, when they boasted of players of the caliber of Pablo Aimar, Kily Gonzalez and Gaizka Mendieta. Under Héctor Cúper, Valencia managed to reach two consecutive Champions League finals at the start of the new millennium. But since then, Los Che haven’t been a major threat in Europe and this season seems no different.
Bayern on the other hand have been one of the most consistent performers in Europe’s elite club competition over the past decade. Under both Louis van Gaal and Jupp Heynckes, the Bavarians have reached two finals. In 2010 they were embarrassed by Jose Mourinho’s Inter and last season saw them narrowly lose out to a determined Chelsea side.
Bayern and Valencia face off at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday to kick off their Champions League campaigns. On paper the Bavarians surely have the upper hand, but Valencia have shown impeccable grit and determination so far by holding champions Real Madrid to a draw and just narrowly losing to Barcelona.
TheHardTackle takes a look at five key individual battles that could possibly decide this replay of the 2001 Champions League final.
Thomas Müller Vs Aly Cissokho
With Arjen Robben possibly out of this fixture, Müller should get the nod on the right flank. The German attacker has been in good form for Bayern this season, notching up three goals and two assists in just three games. He has linked up brilliantly with Mario Mandžukić so far and will be a potent threat down Bayern’s right flank.
The man marking Müller will be Valencia’s summer acquisition, Aly Cissokho. The former Lyon left back was touted to be one of the best left backs in this time of dwindling full backs, but hasn’t lived up to the expectation. Nonetheless, he has shown that he is a formidable defender and his attacking capabilities can prove to be a threat given the fact Müller isn’t going to help out too much in defense.
Likely Winner: Thomas Müller
Mario Mandžukić Vs Victor Ruiz
Mandžukić has been nothing short of a sensation at Bayern this season. To say that Mario Gomez couldn’t have pulled off what Mandžukić has been doing would seem harsh, but the Croatian does seem to add an extra dimension to Jupp Heynckes’ side. He will be Bayern’s most potent threat against Valencia, and will be the sort of opponent that the Spaniards are most unfamiliar with. His aerial prowess may prove to be the hardest aspect to deal with for Valencia.
Coach, Mauricio Pellegrini, will give the duty of marking Mandžukić to his incredibly talented center back, Victor Ruiz. The 23-year-old defender is tenacious, quick and strong in the air, basically possessing all the traits of a promising center back. Some may argue that his lack of experience could come to hurt him, but his recent performances against Barcelona and Real Madrid speak otherwise. He will be the one marshalling Valencia’s defense and the key to shutting down Mandžukić.
Likely Winner: Mario Mandžukić
Holger Badstuber Vs Sofiane Feghouli
Is Badstuber a left back? Well, it is safe to say no. The German defender was Bayern’s best center back last season and has fared decently for Germany, but his performances at left back have been far from satisfactory. Some may argue that his showings at left back this season have been a whole lot better, but has Badstuber gone up against a formidable attacker yet? The answer is no.
On Wednesday Badstuber will be up against Valencia’s most dangerous attacker this season, Sofiane Feghouli. Blessed with phenomenal skill, two venomous feet and good speed, Feghouli will surely be a handful for Badstuber. Given his tendency to cut into the middle, he will be moving onto Badstuber’s better foot, thus helping out the German a little bit. Even with this minute problem, Feghouli will probably be the first of many to expose Badstuber’s shortfalls as a left back.
Likely Winner: Sofiane Feghouli
Javi Martinez Vs Jonas
Martinez seems set to receive his first start in a Bayern jersey on Wednesday night. The Navarre born midfielder/defender will be keen to impress his new employers and begin to pay off the 40 million that Bayern paid for him. His main duty will be to bolster the Bayern backline by playing a lot deeper than his midfield partner Bastian Schweinsteiger. Being in the side with a more defensive mindset, he will most probably be asked to shut down Valencia’s threat down the middle, Jonas.
Jonas, Valencia’s central attacking midfielder, will look to fall into the pockets between Bayern’s midfield duo and their backline. He will play the creative role, looking to feed Roberto Soldado, and occasionally take on defenders on his own. With Martinez being deployed deeper, he might have a slightly harder time but completely shutting down the wily Brazilian will be a mammoth task.
Likely Winner: Javi Martinez
Bastian Schweinsteiger Vs Tino Costa
With both sides being mirror images of each other in terms of their formation, there is one key midfield battle that could be the deciding factor in this game. Unlike the Martinez-Jonas battle, this one is between two identical players. Schweinsteiger will be Bayern’s lynchpin in midfield, pushing forward a lot more than Martinez yet staying behind Toni Kroos. He will be their first line of defense and most probably their deepest creator. With his role being pretty loosely defined, he will also look to thunder forward on occasions.
For Valencia, Tino Costa will be playing the same role. Buffeted between Jonas and Fernando Gago, Costa will be doing exactly what Schweinsteiger does for Bayern. This could result in a fierce battle between the two in the middle of the field. The one advantage that Costa probably does have in this fight is his ability to unleash bullets from almost anywhere. Schweinsteiger will have the added duty given this ability of Costa and it might just prove to be a little too much for the Bayern man.
Likely Winner: Tino Costa