Bayern Munich are strong, but Juventus can't be discounted

Lennart Preiss

Antonio Conte has a tactical dilemma ahead of Juventus' game away at Bayern on Tuesday, and making the right decision could see his side upset the odds.

Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes' stating that he"went to bed last night with the Old Lady and I woke up with her" probably wouldn't have pleased his wife. Fortunately, he wasn't talking about Mrs Heynckes, but La Vecchia Signora; Juventus.

His side meet the Italian giants in the first leg of the most intriguing of the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday night, and it's little wonder that he's giving the opposition so much attention. Bayern may have knocked nine past Hamburg in their last league game and delivered an incredibly efficient performance against Arsenal at the Emirates, though now they come up against their sternest opponents yet.

Just like Bayern, Juventus are also cruising to their domestic title, though this their first experience in the Champions League since being uncermoniously dumped out by the Bavarian team in the knockout stages in 2009. It is their first truly big continental game -- and perhaps truly big game full stop -- since Chelsea knocked them out at this stage the season before.

That hasn't stopped Heynckes' opposite number, bianconeri boss Antonio Conte taking a rather calmer approach. He said that Juve would play "with a smile and no fear." And yet, if you were to personify this Juventus team, you probably wouldn't say they were the most gleeful. Rather than playing with a smile, a brooding snarl would be more expected.

It is their sheer power which has seen them been beaten only four times in the league since the start of last season, and will see them compete against a terrifyingly effective Bayern team. They aren't the most inventive or zestful of sides, though one which operates as a well-oiled machine, with the midfield pistons constantly effortlessly pumping around their creative heart, Andrea Pirlo.

Relied upon to work in tandem to ensure both defensive pressing and offensive probing is effective, the importance of Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal can slip under the radar. But, between them this season they've netted ten times, while Vidal has made more tackles as an average per game this season than everyone in the league, with the exception of Torino's full-back Matteo Darmian.

Elsewhere, wing-back Stephan Lichtsteiner might not be the most endearing player with his tendency to rub his opponents up the wrong way (just ask Gary Hooper), but his consistent quality has seen him become the best right-back in Serie A. The summer arrival of Kwadwo Asamoah strengthened on the opposite side, and we haven't even mentioned their best position yet.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has described Juventus' defence as the "best defensive three I've ever played behind." The statistics would suggest he's right in his praise. They've conceded ten goals fewer than any other team in a notoriously miserly division this season, and last season conceded only 20 times in the entire campaign -- almost a goal every two games.

It's true to say that Serie A hasn't been overly competitive in the last couple of seasons, and it's therefore difficult to assess just how good they are in relation to teams abroad. The unwillingness on Conte's part to take any defensive risks is certainly unsurprising. There's talk that he could drop a striker and play a 3-5-1-1 on Tuesday night in a move which could see French starlet Paul Pogba come into the midfield.

The switch would make sense -- it would help deny Bayern's attacking fulcrum Toni Kroos space in the Juventus third, while adding more steel to the Juve midfield. Pushing Marchisio forward would enable him to use his energy and discipline to restrict the room in which the Germans' key deep-lying playmaker, Bastian Schweinsteiger, can work.

With a compact midfield, it could well prove to be in the wide areas that this game is won or lost. If Bayern can keep Asamoah and Lichsteiner pinned back with their wingers and control possession, they are handed a great advantage. Having generally relied on dominating with the ball themselves, Juventus must ensure that they compensate by attacking effectively.

If, as has been suggested, Mirko Vučinić -- or indeed any of Juve's mobile strikers -- is given a role alone in attack, their constant drifting wide will be a valuable out-ball for Andrea Pirlo to hit, particularly in the space in behind attacking full-backs David Alaba and Phillip Lahm. It's then up to Marchisio to ensure that he can provide the attacking support in the box. On a counter-attack, this is fine. But, when Juve aren't breaking with pace, the absence of a pure striker could cause them problems.

Therein lies the dilemma for Conte. The inclusion of Juventus' only true prima punta, Alessandro Matri, would probably make attacking easier, with another player to hold the ball up in attack, and someone who will always be in the box to attack the ball. On the flipside, he's not the most talented of forwards -- his tally of seven goals this season is unspectacular -- and including him would allow Bayern some more room in which to work in midfield, furthering their already-expected control of possession.

Making the correct tactical choice could be the difference between whether Juventus take a lead or a deficit back to Turin for the second leg. But, the important thing is that Juve have a chance. With such a well-balanced bianconeri midfield, this game is far from a foregone conclusion, no matter how well Bayern have played this season.

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