Bayern Munich will be hoping to end their cold streak as they host Ajax on Tuesday in the second matchday of the 2018/19 Champions League.
You won’t normally associate a club undergoing a crisis after being winless in just two matches. But, for FC Bayern, the standards have always been high and with an important Champions League game against Ajax looming large, an embarrassing 2-0 defeat to Hertha Berlin on the weekend has put the Bavarians in a tricky situation.
Niko Kovac’s team were absolutely undone by Hertha’s doggedness in defence coupled with their sharpness in attack and the Croatian will do his best not to repeat those mistakes as Bayern host Ajax on Tuesday. Given the fans’ lofty expectations, Kovac will be aware of the fact that a further humiliation, especially in the Champions League, could have serious repercussions.
Ajax, on the other hand, won’t be having such problems, coming into this game. Despite a rather embarrassing 3-0 defeat against PSV, the Dutch giants managed to bounce back to winning ways thanks to their convincing 2-0 victory against Fortuna Sittard last weekend. In addition, Ajax also looked quite strong in their opening fixture in the Champions League against AEK Athens, securing a comfortable 3-0 victory.
However, coach Erik ten Hag will be well aware of the fact that Bayern Munich belong to a completely different strata in European football. The Bavarians are more than capable of causing a major humiliation. Thus, it will be interesting to see how they approach against the mighty German side.
And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over both the sides, ahead of their highly anticipated contest this midweek.
Team news & tactics
As mentioned earlier, Bayern Munich will be keen not to replicate the mistake they made against Hertha. Therefore, coach Niko Kovac could ring in the necessary changes this weekend, one of which, will be to recall Thomas Muller to the starting eleven.
The German international started on the bench against Berlin as he made way for Renato Sanches. But, the Portuguese was ineffective, which will certainly see Muller returning to the Bayern midfield alongside James Rodriguez and Thiago Alcantara, who will park himself as the main deep-lying playmaker for FC Bayern.
In defence, Mats Hummels will return to central defence, replacing Jerome Boateng, who should certainly be benched in this one, following an awful display in the last match. Niklas Sule definitely looks like a better option alongside Hummels in the heart of the Bayern defence.
In the offensive department, Kovac will, no doubt, be tempted to give Serge Gnabry the full 90 minutes against Ajax, thanks to his promising performances in the past couple of matches. The former Arsenal prodigy will likely replace Franck Ribery on the left-wing with Arjen Robben starting on the opposite flank.
And finally, Robert Lewandowski will lead the line for the Bavarians. The Polish international has been excellent whenever he was deployed alongside Muller in attack, with the latter operating as the Ramdeuter. And fans will surely be expecting for the same when they both line up against Ajax this week.
Probable lineup(4-1-4-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Sule, Hummels, Alaba; Thiago; Robben, Muller, James, Gnabry; Lewandowski.
Ajax are apparently decimated by an injury crisis with a host of their star players being ruled out for this encounter while others remain doubtful.
Club captain Joel Veltman, in particular, will be missing out this week with a cruciate ligament injury while the highly rated Frenkie de Jong is doubtful along with Hakim Ziyech and Daley Sinkgraven. As a matter of fact, Ajax could be without the services of six key players this midweek, which will force Erik ten Hag to name a relatively unusual starting eleven against Bayern.
Daley Blind and Matthijs de Ligt will be deployed in central defence with Noussair Mazraoui and Nicolas Tagliafico starting as fullbacks. In midfield, the experienced Lasse Schone will partner Carel Eiting at the base of Ajax’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Things do get tricky in attack, however, with Hakim Ziyech being deemed doubtful. Zakaria Labyad is likely to come into the side should Ziyech fail to return to full fitness this week. Ladyad will be deployed as the lone attacking midfielder while the duo of David Neres and Dusan Tadic will operate out wide.
Ajax, however, will be boosted by the full fitness of Klass-Jan Huntelaar, a face well-known to Bundesliga audiences. The former Schalke superstar has already netted 10 goals in 14 matches in all competitions this season and is in red-hot form coming into this game.
Probable lineup(4-2-3-1): Onana; Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Eiting, Schone; Neres, Labyad, Tadic; Huntelaar.
- Ajax and Bayern Munich are two of Europe’s most successful clubs with each having won at least four European cup titles.
- Bayern have a strong home record in the Champions League group stage, having won 12 consecutive matches at the Allianz Arena.
- Ajax’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is an ex-Schalke striker and a Bundesliga veteran, having plundered 82 goals in 175 matches between 2010 and 2017. However, he is yet to score against Bayern, losing seven of his eight games against the Bavarian rivals.
- Ajax have won ten of their last 12 matches in all competition.
- Ajax boss ten Hag was coach of Bayern’s reserve side between 2013 and 2015.
Player to watch
This will be an important game for Serge Gnabry, who will be presented with an exciting opportunity of proving his mettle in the highest level of football. But aside from that, the reliable attacking duo of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben have appeared inconsistent, of late, suggesting a hint of deterioration.
This, in turn, could be a blessing for Gnabry, who can now identify himself as the long-term successor for either of these two world-class individuals. However, a strong display against Ajax this week is imperative, if he is to impress coach Niko Kovac, thus making him a player worth keeping an eye on.
Bayern Munich 3-0 Ajax
Following a disastrous spell of games, it’s almost needless to say that Bayern will come out all guns blazing, in this encounter. This makes it very difficult to foresee an Ajax victory or even a draw given the stark qualitative difference between the two sides. Thus, the Bavarians are definitely the favourites to seal all three points here.