The Champions League returns for the quarter-final stage this week and two German sides are closing in on breaking a record. While it’s the first time since the 2001-02 campaign – when Bayer Leverkusen and FC Bayern made it through – that Germany has had two representatives in the last eight, two Bundesliga clubs have yet to make it to the last four in the Champions League’s 21-year history.
The late 90s saw prolonged German participation in the tournament with Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Leverkusen all reaching the quarter-finals stage in the 1997-98 edition, while surprise league winners 1.FC Kaiserslautern held their own until the last eight in 1998-99 before being swept aside by eventual runners-up Bayern.
The Bundesliga’s increasing prominence on the European stage means it is now vying for prestige with the under-performing English Premier League and despite La Liga being the most fancied destination for the trophy this summer, Bayern (4.50) and Borussia Dortmund (7.50) are the main challengers to the dominance of 2.65 favourites Barcelona and 3.50 shots Real Madrid. But before we get ahead of ourselves, what are the prospects of FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund making history for the Bundesliga and reaching the Champions League semi-finals?
Bayern Munich v Juventus
FC Bayern warmed up for Tuesday’s visit of the reigning Serie A champions in stunning fashion, with fringe players including scorers Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro helping them to a record-breaking 9-2 victory against Hamburg. But it is not all good news. While they saw off Arsenal in the last 16, signs of mental fragility were visible through the cracks following the home defeat to the Gunners, particularly their vulnerability at set-pieces. Nevertheless, Bayern are favourites for a home win (1.60) against Juve and to progress to the last eight (1.50).
Juventus have met the Bavarians six times in the UEFA Champions League between 2004 and 2009 and it is the Italians who have come out on top more often than not, winning three times to Bayern’s two. The spoils are shared in Munich, though, with one win for the Germans, one for the Old Lady, and a draw from four years ago.
Despite their runaway lead in the Bundesliga this season, FC Bayern are perhaps fired most by a determination to right the wrongs of the Champions League final in Munich last season. The pre-match banner “Our City, Our Stadium, Our Cup” set a fantastic backdrop to the showpiece against Chelsea inside the Allianz Arena, which enthralled over 300 million people.
But the penalty shootout defeat hit hard and stalwart Uli Hoeness has ramped up the pressure on FC Bayern to make sure they go one further in May.
“We’ve got to ensure we bring the league campaign to a decent conclusion, but our main focus is on the Champions League,” he told BILD earlier this month. “We want to win the Champions League. We are hungry for this title – even famished for it.”
Arsenal aside, the last time FC Bayern lost at home in the Champions League was against another Italian side in Inter Milan two years ago. In the intervening period, first under the guidance of Louis van Gaal and then Jupp Heynckes, the Rekordmeister secured ten wins from ten – including against Real Madrid and Manchester City – scoring two (3.30) or more goals in all of those matches. Five of those games saw Bayern hit three goals (3.10) or more.
The omens look good for more goals for Bayern tonight. Mario Gomez will likely find a spot on the bench having slipped behind Mario Mandzukic in the pecking order but he has scored 25 goals in his last 27 appearances in the competition (1.95 AT/4.50 LS). Meanwhile, midfielder Toni Kroos has three goals in this season’s tournament, netting twice in Bayern’s three home group stage matches (3.75 AT) and will provide the spark from behind Mandzukic.
Malaga v Borussia Dortmund
Twenty-four hours later, Borussia Dortmund will look to put one foot in the last four of the tournament when they make a tricky trip to Malaga for the first meeting between the two sides.
Jurgen Klopp leads an unbeaten team to the south of Spain for Wednesday’s clash, having defeated Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16 and taken the scalps of Real Madrid and Manchester City in the group stages. Even though they are German champions, Dortmund’s Champions League journey started in Pot Four, leaving them with a tough set of early opponents, which also included Ajax.
Three victories at home, plus their win over Shakhtar last month, shows how dangerous BVB are at their imposing Signal Iduna Park. Klopp’s squad is touted as being the closest to Barcelona in terms of style, pressing and quality in attacking areas. However, their favourites tag against Malaga on Wednesday (2.15) will be an interesting test of Dortmund’s mental strength.
Dortmund have scored, on average, two goals a game in the Champions League this season (3.60) and have netted three or more (4.75) twice against Shakhtar and Ajax. But a concern for last season’s Bundesliga winners will be the injury to Mats Hummels that will keep him out of the first leg. The weakest area of this Dortmund side has looked to be central defence, particularly when without Hummels, and the raw pace of Malaga is a threat to the Germans. Certainly, with the likes of Isco in their opponents’ armoury, Klopp is unlikely to instruct a gung-ho approach.
Even so, it should be a relatively open and exciting game and with the goals spread out fairly in both halves for BVB (nine to seven), their high-tempo style should see them on the front foot in the first half (1.80 to score first) and after the interval (2.10 to score first).
One cause for optimism for both Bayern and Dortmund is that they have already proven their worth against strong sides in the tournament. And although Bayern will have doubters in their ability to close out games when the pressure is on, Dortmund’s return to form following a recent slip-up in the Bundesliga means a strong German presence in the last four looks increasingly likely.
Ross Dunbar is a freelance football writer and senior editor of BundesligaFootball.co.uk. He writes for MirrorFootball, TeamTalk and regularly featured in the Scottish Sun, among others. Follow Ross on twitter @rossdunbar93.