Tuesday night’s showpiece event pits a battle of champions as Manchester City and Bayern Munich lock horns in their Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash at Etihad Stadium.
Despite both sides being embroiled in a battle to retain their domestic crowns, going all the way in Europe’s premium tournament remains of paramount importance to their respective hierarchies.
Man City have been in imperious winning form over the last couple of months and showed their class once again, dismantling relegation-battlers Southampton 4-1 at St Mary’s.
The weekend success, coupled with title rivals Arsenal dropping points against Liverpool, means Pep Guardiola’s side are now six points behind the Gunners with a game in hand.
However, Guardiola’s sole focus will be ensuring he enacts revenge over familiar foe Thomas Tuchel, whose Chelsea side stopped him from ending his Champions League hoodoo in the 2020/21 final.
The German champions head into the mouth-watering midweek encounter on the back of a narrow 1-0 victory over top-four hopefuls SC Freiburg.
Matthijs De Ligt’s ferocious long-range belter in the second half ensured victory for Die Roten, who were lucky not to rue their profligacy in front of goal at full-time.
Tuchel has had a fairly impressive start to life at the Allianz Arena but will fancy his side’s chances of thwarting the Cityzens at the Etihad – a ground he is all too familiar with from his time in London.
Since the 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig in the Champions League last 16 first leg clash, Guardiola’s side have embarked on a remarkable eight-game winning streak across all competitions, scoring 31 goals and conceding just three.
That run includes a 7-0 thrashing of Leipzig at the Etihad, with Erling Braut Haaland spearheading the riot with five goals to ensure their safe passage to the next round.
Back-to-back 4-1 victories against Liverpool and Southampton further strengthened their title credentials ahead of what is set to be a frantic end to the campaign.
Haaland missed the clash against Liverpool with a groin injury. But Guardiola’s side ensured his absence wasn’t felt, with Julian Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish getting the job done.
However, his return to fitness could not have come at a worse time for the relegation strugglers as the Norwegian netted twice against the Saints, taking his tally to 30 Premier League goals for the season.
Haaland also leads the Champions League scoring chart with ten strikes in just six outings this term. But the Man City sharpshooter has never tasted success against Bayern, losing all seven encounters during his time with Borussia Dortmund.
However, Tuesday’s encounter could provide the 22-year-old an avenue to get one over the Bavarians as Man City have won the last two games when hosting Bayern in the Champions League (L1) – with their only defeat coming against Guardiola’s Bayern in October 2013.
Man City’s home form against German sides could also come in handy, having won their last ten home games against such teams in Europe’s most prestigious tournament by an aggregate score of 39-10.
Guardiola has won 54% of his Champions League knockout (KO) games, boasting the best win percentage of any manager with 30+ KO matches (including finals), and is the only one to have won more than half of his clashes.
However, coming up against Tuchel for the fourth time in this competition could be tricky, with the German tactician winning two of the previous three while keeping clean sheets.
Since replacing Julian Nagelsmann at Bayern, Tuchel has endured a mixed start to life at the Allianz Arena, beating title rivals Dortmund in the Der Klassiker before suffering a DFB Pokal quarter-final defeat to Freiburg.
The German rectified the cup result with a narrow Bundesliga win but will hope his side can be more clinical in front of goal after spurning eight big chances in last weekend’s encounter.
Tuchel’s predecessor Nagelsmann ensured Bayern swatted aside everyone in their path to the knockout rounds in a group that included Barcelona and Inter Milan.
They then bypassed French giants Paris Saint-Germain with minimum fuss in the last-16, beating the French giants 3-0 on aggregate to set up a delicately poised clash with Man City.
In what will be their seventh Champions League clash, the odds are in Bayern’s favour if omens are anything to go by, with both sides alternating victories across their previous six meetings.
However, despite sitting atop the Bundesliga standings, Bayern have been more unconvincing than Man City domestically, and a mixed start for Tuchel puts increased pressure on this tie.
Their record against English sides should be enough for cautious optimism as Bayern have only lost two of their previous ten trips to England (W6, D2), winning three of the last four (D1).
Thomas Muller has won 99 of his 140 appearances in the Champions League and could become the third player after Cristiano Ronaldo (115) and Iker Casillas (101) with 100 wins in the competition should he feature in a victory for Bayern. He will also be the first to achieve the feat with a single club.
Phil Foden remains the only absentee from Guardiola’s near fully fit squad as the Englishman recovers from appendix surgery.
The Spanish manager has not tinkered with his winning formula recently, so his unorthodox three-at-the-back structure should take centre stage again on Tuesday.
Bernardo Silva may come in for Riyad Mahrez after the Portuguese midfielder played 90 minutes in both legs against Leipzig in the last round.
The back three should remain unchanged, with John Stones continuing to excel in a midfield role, after being preferred to Kalvin Phillips.
Tuchel will take his Bayern side to Manchester without a recognised centre forward, with Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting set to miss out with a knee injury.
Serge Gnabry was used in a central role for the win over Freiburg but failed to prove decisive, so Thomas Muller, who is more accustomed to the role, could be used as a central figure.
With Leon Goretzka expected to come back into the side after being rested against Freiburg, Jamal Musiala may move further forward with Muller leading the line.
Kingsley Coman, who scored the all-important winning goal away in Paris in their last 16 first leg, could also replace Sadio Mane on the left flank with the Senegalese forward yet to return to his sparkling best post-injury.
Manchester City potential starting line-up:
(3-6-1): Ederson; Manuel Akanji, Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake; John Stones, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish; Erling Braut Haaland.
Bayern Munich potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Yann Sommer; Benjamin Pavard, Matthijs de Ligt, Dayot Upamecano, Alphonso Davies; Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sane, Jamal Musiala, Kingsley Coman; Thomas Muller.
We Say: Manchester City 2-1 Bayern Munich
Heading into this mammoth showdown on the back of eight consecutive wins means Guardiola’s reigning English champions will fancy themselves against any team in the world.
That includes Bayern, who despite their Champions League form, are still finding their feet under Tuchel which could prove the difference between both sides at the Etihad.