The Champions League returns this week and it’s always been a competition of special significance for Bayern Munich. But the five-time winners haven’t had much joy in the competition since their 2013 victory at Wembley. The installation of Pep Guardiola certainly consolidated power in the Bundesliga but European success proved elusive. This may have provided much of the rationale for hiring Carlo Ancelotti – the wily Italian knows a thing or two about the European Cup and this year will be eager to become the outright most successful manager in the history of the competition.
But from European giants to relative minnows on this particular stage – Bayern’s matchday one opponents are FC Rostov, who finished runners-up in the Russian League in 2015/16. Indeed, this year marks the first time Rostov have ever qualified for a UEFA tournament proper besides the Intertoto Cups of 1999 and 2000. After negotiating a tricky third qualifying round tie against RSC Anderlecht Rostov headed to the playoffs. And they certainly qualified in style, holding Ajax to a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam before staging a 4-1 demolition at the 16,000-seater Olimp-2 in Rostov-on-Don, running out 5-2 aggregate winners. But will this European momentum be enough to hold Bayern at bay?
As one would expect, the German champions have been in clinical form so far this season. It’s been business as usual in the Bundesliga, in which they’ve registered a thumping 6-0 home win over Werder Bremen and a patient 2-0 against FC Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. If they keep up this form, there’s simply no chance for Rostov. The Russians sit sixth in their domestic league with three wins, a draw and two losses to their name. There just simply isn’t enough to worry Bayern at this point, particularly given the game is at the Allianz Arena – Rostov have won just once on the road this season.
Carlo Ancelotti has revealed that while the majority of his squad will be available, Jérôme Boateng, Kingsley Coman and Arjen Robben will “need more time to build up their fitness” according to the Italian, while Holger Badstuber is still sidelined due to injury.
As for Rostov, left-back Fedor Kudryashov is serving his ban after being sent off in the playoff versus Ajax.
Bayern Munich (4-3-3): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Javi Martínez, Mats Hummels, David Alaba; Joshua Kimmich, Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcântara; Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribéry
FC Rostov (5-3-2): Nikita Medvedev; Denis Terentyev, Papa Gueye, Miha Mevlja, Vladimir Granat, Khoren Bayramyan; Timofei Kalachev, Andrei Prepeliță, Aleksandr Erokhin; Aleksandr Bukharov, Dmitri Poloz
While there aren’t many easy fixtures in European football, in relation to the other teams in Bayern’s group (Atlético Madrid and PSV), this certainly is one. There’s not a lot going in favour of Rostov in this one and if Bayern score early, it’ll be a matter of how many they get. I’ll go for 3-0, but it could get messier.