Bayern Munich v Villarreal: Emery can make Bayern work
Bayern Munich were outplayed last week in Spain against Villarreal, and Kevin Hatchard thinks the German champions will have to work incredibly hard to reach the semi-finals.
Nagelsmann facing the acid test
Julian Nagelsmann is rightly seen as one of world football's brightest minds, but this game is the key to how his first season at the helm of Bayern Munich will be perceived. The 5-0 drubbing at Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB Cup earlier this season was embarrassing, but a Champions League exit to Villarreal would be seen as a far more damaging blow inside and outside the club. German tabloid Bild have suggested it would be the club's biggest embarrassment in Europe for 14 years.
Nagelsmann was far from happy about last week's 1-0 defeat at the Ceramica, and admitted his side deserved to lose. He described his players as performing wildly, especially in the second half, and admitted it could have been a heavier defeat. Even though Bayern are nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with five matchdays left, the season will be deemed a disappointment by many if the UCL road ends here.
Bayern can at least take solace from the previous round against Salzburg. They performed poorly in the first leg in Austria, but turned things around with a 7-1 victory, a game that included a 12-minute hat-trick from Robert Lewandowski. Villarreal are unlikely to be as accommodating as a naïve and inexperienced Salzburg were.
Niklas Süle could miss the game because of illness, while fellow centre-back Lucas Hernandez hopes to recover from a thigh problem. Alphonso Davies made an mixed return after illness (heart inflammation) in the first leg, but Nagelsmann admitted a bit of rustiness is understandable.
Yellow Submarine should have sunk Bayern
As impressive and memorable as Villarreal's first-leg display was last week, there was an unmistakeable feeling that an opportunity had slipped through the grasp of Unai Emery's side. Gerard Moreno struck a post, and later failed to take advantage of a terrible clearance by Manuel Neuer. Instead of playing in the completely free Arnaut Danjuma, the Spain striker went for a lofted long-range effort which missed the target. In the end, Danjuma's close-range goal in the first half was all Villarreal had to show for a stellar night's work.
The temptation is to look at Villarreal's away record in La Liga and recoil in horror (they have lost their last three away games without scoring, and have lost seven of the last 11) but anyone who knows how Emery works in Europe is aware that domestic form and continental performances often don't tally. In the last 16, Villarreal executed their gameplan perfectly in Turin, coming away with a 3-0 win over Juventus. They kept possession in the Juve half and waited for errors, and those mistakes finally arrived in the second half.
Villarreal are certainly never daunted by facing sides with big reputations. They beat Manchester United on spot-kicks in the Europa League final last season, they took Chelsea to penalties in this season's Super Cup, and in La Liga they have twice held the champions-elect Real Madrid to a goalless draw.
Emery rested a host of key performers for the 1-1 draw with Athletic Club, and has no fresh injury worries.
Bayern may well qualify, but don't expect a blowout
Bayern are a very short 1.39 in the To Qualify market, and given their faltering form, I simply couldn't recommend lumping on at that price. If the Bavarian giants are going to get through, I suspect they'll have to do it the hard way, and there's certainly merit in backing Villarreal +2.0 on the Asian Handicap at 1.76. That way, you only lose the bet if Spaniards lose by three goals in the 90 minutes. Alternatively, you could back Unai Emery's side To Qualify at a hefty 3.55.
On the basis that I think Villarreal will look to stay compact and keep possession whenever they can, I'm amazed that Under 3.5 Goals is trading at 1.85. The market clearly expects Bayern to come flying out of the traps, but Villarreal might not let them, and there'll be a fair bit of anxiety around the Allianz Arena in the opening exchanges.
King Coman can come up trumps
While I don't think there'll be many goals, it wouldn't surprise me if Bayern winger Kingsley Coman were to get himself on the scoresheet. The Frenchman scored the winning goal in the 2020 final for Bayern, and he scored in the previous round against Salzburg. He tends to rise to the big occasion, and he had three shots in the first leg. At 2.7 in the To Score market, the winger is attractively priced.
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