The European knockout campaign kicks off tonight with the hosting of the German champions. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton look in detail at a big night at the Bridge…
Chelsea and Bayern Munich, two of the five members of UEFA’s elite won-it-all club, face each other this evening in a Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Stamford Bridge.
In contrast to the Premier League and the Blues, the Bundesliga arranged for Bayern Munich to play on Friday evening, handing them more rest and preparation for the first leg in London. The Londoners, though, are buoyed by an impressive victory over local rivals Tottenham on Saturday, while the visitors had a last-minute win at home to bottom club Paderborn.
Frank Lampard staged a players’ meeting before that derby win, and will have learned a lot about the subsequent response on the pitch. He also knows what to expect from the opposition – as a player he scored three in four games against the Bavarians, and skippered the Blues, scoring a shoot-out penalty, in the glorious Champions League final victory over them in May 2012.
Chelsea have never lost at home to German opposition, winning six of the nine matches played, although last season it took penalties to see off Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals on the way to lifting the Europa League.
Bayern won 7-2 the last time they were in London, a group stage game at Tottenham in October, and trounced Arsenal 5-1 at Emirates in the 2016/17 Round of 16. Those are their sole successes on English soil.
Chelsea’s past three campaigns in this competition ended with the big step up that comes with this stage, and Bayern are Champions League opponents as daunting as… well, we can certainly think of one back in 2012. And that turned out quite well in the end.
In the four Bundesliga matches since they returned from Germany’s month-long winter break, the Bavarians have trammelled lower league sides by an aggregate of 16 goals to two, but that does not tell the whole story.
Chelsea can take hope from their tactically-intense 0-0 draw at home to title rivals Leipzig, a similar team to the Blues in their youth and high pressing, and who also won 1-0 at Tottenham in the Round of 16 last week.
Leipzig’s 4-3-3 often morphed into 5-3-2 against Bayern as the hosts claimed 70 per cent possession but, like lowly Paderborn, beaten 3-2 on Friday, they squandered good openings in the final third.
When goalkeeper Manuel Neuer initiated moves with passes to his two centre-backs, they were harassed with some success until midfielder Joshua Kimmick dropped deep to provide another option, and the counter-attack often looked on when the Reds lost possession.
What Chelsea will be especially keen to avoid is athletic full-backs Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard joining the attack and freeing up their wide forwards Thomas Mueller and Serge Gnabry to drift inside and find dangerous pockets of space. Leipzig switched to a 4-4-2 to counter Davies in particular and successfully shut the Bavarians out.
The well-executed victory over Tottenham has alleviated some of the pressure on Chelsea and arguably presented a blueprint for tonight: pressing, intercepting, passing and moving with pace and no little power, and dispatching chances.
Bayern are also without two of their best centre-backs, Niklas Sule and Javi Martinez. The Blues’ wide forwards will look to exploit the space vacated by their right- and left-back and expose the heart of defence to better effect than Leipzig or Paderborn, whose forwards were too often caught offside.
Equally, midfielders Leon Goretzka (an injury doubt) and Thiago Alcantara can be caught napping if an opponent wins the ball in the middle and plays it forward quickly enough.
At our best, the Blues have the one-touch game to hurt the Germans, who were the only side to manage more penalty-area shots in the group stage of this competition than Lampard’s men.
Bayern’s top scorer Robert Lewandowski may have 10 Champions League goals – five times the total of Chelsea’s best – but the leading scorer in last season’s Europa League, Olivier Giroud, is now on a run of 14 goals and four assists from his last 14 starts. Efficiency and tactical discipline on and off the ball and at both ends will be required to progress over the two legs.
How the teams reached this stage:
Chelsea (Group H)
Valencia h L 0-1
Lille a W 2-1
Ajax a W 1-0
Ajax h D 4-4
Valencia a D 2-2
Lille h W 2-1
Bayern (Group B)
Red Star Belgrade h W 3-0
Tottenham a W 7-2
Olympiacos a W 2-0
Olympiacos h W 2-0
Red Star Belgrade a W 6-0
Tottenham h W 3-1
Supporters are urged to take their seats earlier than usual this evening to savour a pre-match display and fireworks as the players walk out, with a mosaic and banners in the Matthew Harding Stand echoing Bayern’s ‘Unsere stadt, unser stadion, unser pokal’ (‘Our city, our stadium, our cup’) ahead of our famous Champions League triumph on their ground in 2012.
Man of the Match award
An innovation for this season’s knockout stage is the presentation of a Man of the Match award to the best performer in each game at full-time. The prize is a hollow, 3D version of the competition’s football logo in metal and the decision, based on criteria including skill, tactics, inspiration and fair play, will be made by the UEFA technical observer present at each stadium.
Previously the presentation was reserved for the tournament final; in 2012 the recipient was Didier Drogba. Making the selection tonight at the Bridge will be England Women’s head coach Phil Neville.
Bournemouth, who have lost six of their past eight league games but won their last two at home, have a clear week ahead of our visit to the south coast on Saturday.
A see-saw draw at title rivals Man City on Sunday, including a stunner from Beth England, left Chelsea Women a point behind the leaders with a game in hand and six left to play.
Over in Germany tonight they will be consuming doughnuts and decorative hedgehogs while celebrating the winter carnival of Mardi Gras, or ‘Fasching’ as it is called in Munich.
Travelling Chelsea fans had a taste of this in Stuttgart back in February 2004. It was freezing cold and the city streets were deserted, but behind closed doors every bar and restaurant in town was packed to the rafters with revellers, many in fancy dress. Back then Claudio Ranieri’s Blues clinched all the points as a result of Fernando Meira’s own-goal but Chelsea fans were welcomed at every hostelry.
Nuts for Neuer
Meanwhile in SW6 this evening it is likely to rain or hail, which will do little to prevent Manuel Neuer having flashbacks to his worst Champions League memory, from Schalke’s 0-2 loss at the Bridge in 2007. ‘It was a rainy night in London,’ he recalled recently, ‘and I let a Florent Malouda shot through my legs.’ The Chelsea winger actually nutmegged the hands and legs of Germany’s then Under-21 goalie.
Champions League round of 16 fixtures – week two
Chelsea vs Bayern Munich 8pm
Napoli vs Barcelona 8pm
Lyon vs Juventus 8pm
Real Madrid vs Manchester City 8pm
Source: Chelsea FC