Sevilla host Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday. Here are five matchups that could determine the outcome.
The Champions League resumes on Tuesday when Sevilla host Bayern Munich in the first leg of their quarterfinal matchup. Sitting sixth in La Liga, Sevilla enter Tuesday’s game as significant underdogs.
Bayern are running away with the Bundesliga title for a sixth consecutive season. The first leg is extremely important to Vincenzo Montella’s side, who need to win if they’re going to advance to the semifinals. While Sevilla defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford in the last round, winning at the Allianz Arena is even more difficult.
Bayern haven’t lost this season at home, winning all but two games in Munich. Bayern have been eliminated by Spanish clubs each of the past four seasons, however, losing to Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and twice to Real Madrid. However, each of those teams were significantly more talented than this season’s Sevilla.
Wissam Ben Yedder vs. Jerome Boateng
Wissam Ben Yedder scored a pair of goals in a matter of minutes to sink Manchester United and put Sevilla through to the quarterfinals. In the Champions League, Ben Yedder has been Sevilla’s best player, scoring eight goals in seven games. However, under Montella, Ben Yedder has played a reduced role, not playing in the first leg against United and only coming on as a sub in the second leg. Montella would be wise to start Ben Yedder against Bayern. The French striker has been more productive and a better finisher than Luis Muriel, who Montella has selected to start recently. Ben Yedder provides Sevilla with more speed that allows Sevilla to press higher up the field, forcing mistakes and helping to open up space and create scoring chances.
Jerome Boateng is still one of the world’s best center-backs. Few players combine speed, size and physicality the way Boateng does defensively. Against Sevilla, Boateng will be tasked with tracking Ben Yedder and following him around the pitch. In the second leg against United, Ben Yedder used smart off-ball diagonal runs to create space for himself, allowing teammates to pick him out with passes. Boateng will have to get into passing lanes and prevent Sevilla from making passes into Ben Yedder.
Clement Lenglet vs. Robert Lewandowski
Ask Bayern team president Uli Hoeness and he’ll tell you immediately that Robert Lewandowski’s the best striker in the world. While the Polish superstar doesn’t have the most goals in Europe, he’s scored 35 in 38 games this season. There are only a few players in the world that have the combination of size and speed that Lewandowski possesses.
It’s a combination that clubs across Europe are always looking for, and are willing to pay massive amounts of money to acquire. Only a handful of strikers in the world are able to run onto balls and finish with the pace and ease that Lewandowski does. In the air, the 6-foot-2 Lewandowski uses his height and great jumping ability to finish crosses with his head. In the prime of his career, Lewandowski has made scoring goals look easy.
French center-back Clement Lenglet was signed by Sevilla in January 2017 from Ligue 2 side Nancy for €5.4 million. The signing might be one of the best value moves of the last 18 months, with Lenglet emerging as a star for Sevilla. Lenglet has played in all but three of Sevilla’s games in all competitions, playing 90 minutes in all but three games this season. The center-back’s strong season hasn’t gone unnoticed by bigger clubs, including Barcelona, who are rumored to be interested in signing Lenglet. In the round of 16, Lenglet was able to use his size to deal with United striker Romelu Lukaku’s strength. Lenglet has the height to match Lewandowski in any aerial duels. However, the matchup with the Bayern striker will test Lenglet’s pace, and ability to stick with the Polish star.
Bayern have lost four games in all competitions this season. In all four games, Lewandowski has failed to score. For Sevilla to win Tuesday, Lenglet needs to get the better of Lewandowski and prevent him from scoring.
Steven N’Zonzi vs. Arturo Vidal
Since Steven N’Zonzi moved from Stoke to Sevilla, his career has taken off. The towering French international plays as a deep holding midfielder. Against United, N’Zonzi used his passing ability to quickly transition from defending to attacking after winning possession. With Bayern likely to dominate possession, N’Zonzi could end up operating as a center-back, as Sevilla will try to keep Bayern from getting into the box. N’Zonzi needs to use his length to get into passing lanes to prevent Bayern from playing through balls to Lewandowski. The French international needs to close down Arturo Vidal in midfield and take away his time and space to force turnovers.
The best way to describe Vidal is aggressive. Sometimes Vidal’s aggressive play is a positive, other times a negative. Bayern’s Champions League run came to an end last season after Vidal picked up his second yellow card against Real Madrid. That’s an example of how Vidal’s reckless tackling has a negative effect. However, if Vidal is forced to play differently, he’s not as effective a player. He runs around tirelessly attempting to win the ball back. When Bayern have the ball, Vidal pushes forward, capable of scoring a goal from the edge of the box or thread a pass into the box to set up a goal.
During the international break, Vidal suffered a thigh injury that could rule him out of the first leg. If Vidal is unable to play, Jupp Heynckes has three options to replace him. Heynckes could swap Thiago Alcantara or Corentin Tolisso into the starting XI. Another option is moving Thomas Muller to midfield and start Robben and Franck Ribery on the wing.
Guido Pizarro vs. James Rodriguez
Since taking over, Montella has used Ever Banega next to N’Zonzi in holding midfield. However, Banega will miss the first leg against Bayern as he serves a yellow card suspension. That’s a major loss for Sevilla. Banega has played in 41 games this season, scoring four goals and adding five assists. However, Banega’s real value comes from his ability to win back possession and reorganize Sevilla in transition.
Without Banega, Montella will likely start Guido Pizarro, though Roque Mesa and Johannes Geis are also options to replace the Argentina international in the starting XI. Pizarro has received more playing time than Mesa and Geis since signing with Sevilla in the summer from Mexican side Tigres. Against Bayern, Pizarro will be tasked with disrupting James Rodriguez in midfield. Pizarro will have to follow Rodriguez around the field, trying to win possession and prevent Bayern from dominant the ball too much. Sevilla need Pizarro to stop Rodriguez from making forward runs, get into passing lanes and force Bayern to play wide instead of directly attacking the goal.
Entering the season, Rodriguez’s career was at a crossroads. Despite being part of Real Madrid’s back-to-back Champions League squads, the Colombian midfielder hardly played. Rodriguez was loaned to Bayern, where he initially struggled to integrate himself under Carlo Ancelotti. However, since Heynckes took over for Ancelotti, Rodriguez looks like the player who starred at the 2014 World Cup. Heynckes’ trust and belief in Rodriguez has allowed the Colombian to freedom to be creative with both his passing and runs. Rodriguez has generally played as an attacking midfielder but has shifted out wide and been used as a winger. In the first leg, Heynckes will likely deploy Rodriguez centrally so he can use his dribbling and passing to feed Lewandowski or either of the wingers.
Joaquin Correa vs. Joshua Kimmich
Joaquin Correa is a young promising player for Sevilla who operates as a left-winger. He’s fast, creative and can deliver a through ball or cross to create scoring chances. However, perhaps Correa’s most important contributions will come when he doesn’t have the ball. On Tuesday night, he will go head-to-head with Bayern right-back Joshua Kimmich.
Kimmich is in the discussion for best right-back in the world. He provides Bayern with strong defensive play and aggressively gets forward when they have the ball. However, Kimmich can still be pressured into an odd mistake that Sevilla need to capitalize on. When Bayern have the ball, Correa needs to track back and prevent Kimmich from making overlapping runs. Bayern are at their best offensively, when Kimmich can make get forward and make overlapping runs. When he does, Kimmich opens up space for Arjen Robben to make his trademark cut inside, or Kimmich can deliver a cross into the box for Lewandowski. When Kimmich is able to push forward, he creates more width for Bayern to attack with. Kimmich’s forward runs give Rodriguez and Vidal more space in midfield, allowing them to play the ball directly into Lewandowski.
For Sevilla to win the first leg, they need Correa to prevent Kimmich from getting forward. If Correa is unable to keep up with Kimmich, Sevilla could find themselves in a deep hole. Bayern would love to leave Spain with a big win, similar to their win against Besiktas last round.