The memorable win in the reverse fixture is still in our minds, isn’t it?
A true masterpiece by the players and the manager allowed us to stop the unstoppable Bayern Munich and earned us a lifeline in this utterly complicated Champions League journey; the only problem is that we would need to produce another historical night like that one to really have a chance to qualify but the conditions are not quite the same, compared to two weeks ago.
First, we will be playing at the Allianz Arena this time and second, we have half of the team not available for the big match.
Although we can line-up a very talented and fearsome starting XI, we will be short of alternatives on the bench and virtually have no back-up for our forwards; with Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck still out, our only attacking option off the bench will be Alex Iwobi.
It means that we cannot afford to chase the result – we do not have the resources to do that.
Contrarily to what we witnessed at the Emirates Stadium, we cannot hope to tire them and win the game with fresh legs from the bench, therefore we need to adapt our game plan: we cannot afford to defend and kick the ball away only, we need to try our best to score the first goal – of course without exposing our defensive line excessively.
It’s going to be a very delicate game of balance and maturity: Bayern Münich will surely have a lot of the ball, will surely force us back in our own third and will surely test our defensive line several times, we will need to cope with that but also make sure they understand they must stay on their toes, defensively; we need to be ready to defend like a team, from Olivier Giroud all the way down to Petr Čech (it sounds rhetorical, I know) but also be quick and sharp in transitions from Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla to Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez.
The good news is that we are very good at playing for each other and our players look like they care for their teammates.
At the other end of the pitch we cannot rely on the speed and acceleration of Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, therefore Olivier Giroud will be extremely important: we will need him to keep hold of the ball and possibly move it forward, otherwise we are destined to crumble, sooner or later.
Our handsome French striker was impressive when he came on two weeks ago, imposing his game to two very physical centre-halves like Alaba and Boateng; he will need to be as much effective if he wants to help the team.
If he can put the ball down and play it to Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez or – to a minor extent – Joel Campbell behind him, we might have a chance to find openings in front of Neuer.
He won’t have many chances to make the difference because the more the game goes on, the more he will lack energy and strength to beat his opponents – since he will constantly play one against two in Bayern’s half of the pitch – so we need to make the most of each ball we have at our disposal.
Any inch of space between Xabi Alonso and the centre-backs will be vital to grab a goal (as will be set-pieces) and much of our fortunes will depend on the effectiveness and sharpness of our midfield square, composed of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla in front of the back four and Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez in the final third: the key will be to intercept as many passes as possible through the middle and immediately move the ball higher on the pitch, where Xabi Alonso could struggle to contain Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, drifting in.
If either of Mesut Özil or Alexis Sanchez has the ball in that area of the field, anything could happen and we could even take the lead.
I don’t feel very confident but if we manage to go into the final twenty minutes with a positive result, we will be able to throw in the likes of Mathieu Flamini, Calum Chambers, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs, reinforcing our dam and frustrating our opponents in the final minutes.
Coming back from Germany with zero points would be a big blow to our chances to qualify, yet it is the most likely of the possible outcomes.
I know it sounds pessimistic but we have to face the reality: we will need an even more solid, focused, mature and cynical performance to get something out of tomorrow’s game – and we cannot count on anyone coming off the bench and win us the game.
Bayern will surely want to seal the qualification and get a major option on the first place, on the top of proving to Europe that they are much better than what they have showed at the Emirates Stadium: will we be ready for another, yet completely different fight?