I had the good fortune to virtually chat with Phil Pierson, the editor of SBNation's Bayern Munich blog Bavarian Football Works (they do some really great work over there, so check it out--even if it is just as opposition research) to preview tonight's Champions League matchup. What's even better? I answered some questions for him on BFW. More good news about this? Phil agreed to join me on the podcast on Wednesday to recap all the action from the first leg, so this isn't the only stuff you'll get to hear from him!
Gabe Lezra: So let's get this out of the way. We're both in love with a man. And he looks like he's a pale version of one of those Avatar monsters. So what gives? Why are you trying to steal him from us?
Phil Pierson: I always thought he looked more like an oily deep-sea fish. But, yes, my interest in Mesut Özil sometimes takes on an unhealthy dimension. Bringing him to Bayern would be a dream, and I really think he'd be a huge asset for us. Of course, he'd be a huge asset for any team in the world. About the only problem I have with Özil is the need to mess around with the special characters/codes necessary to make an umlaut every time I want to write his name. I have the same problem with Thomas Müller.
GL: Bayern's offensive game flows through the world-class wingers that run their left and right sides. Seeing how Madrid's defense is particularly weak on the wings, do you see this as Bayern's main focus on offense? If not, where would you point Bayern's offense in regards to Madrid's defense?
PP: Yes, Ribery and Robben are our main weapons. It can actually be pretty frustrating as a Bayern fan, because they're so incredibly good when they're healthy and locked-in that we pretty much need to run our offense through them, but they're also somewhat inconsistent. Both have struggled with injury problems, and Robben adds the tempermental "I get angry when things don't go my way" angle. Madrid's defense weak in the wings? Meh. Arbo-darbo might have made a few mistakes this year, but he's still probably better than 80 percent of the FBs we face from week to week.
Anyway, playing against Ribery and Robben is like trying to avoid a lighting strike. What do you do to avoid a lighting strike? There are probably a few things you can do to increase your odds, but basically you just hope it doesn't hit you. If Ribery and Robben are both having a good day and working their dribbling moves properly, no one in the world can guard them. To be perfectly honest, if I were giving advice to someone tasked with marking Robben, I'd say "try to kick him in the ankle when the referee isn't looking." That really pisses him off. Understandably, and I'd be angry too. I'm just saying, he doesn't deal with frustration very well.
GL: Flipping things around a little, one of the criticisms of Bayern is their lack of pace in the center of the defense. How would you make up for this against Madrid? And if you don't think this is a problem, what do you think are Bayern's biggest question marks defensively? And if you don't think Bayern has any defensive question marks, then disregard this question.
PP: Yes, speed at CB is a problem for us, though it isn't as bad since Daniel van Buyten got hurt (one of my favorite players, by the way). I have no idea what our defensive strategy could/will look like. I think probably 90 percent of our opponents are happy to let us eat up possession and then just look to hit us on the counter-attack. I'm actually really looking forward to a match against another top-shelf club, where we can battle it out in the middle of the field rather than just smash our heads into a wall for 88 minutes and then watch as the opponent tries to steal it at the end.
GL: Mesut Özil has said that he wants to be with Real Madrid his whole career. Care to comment on that? #booyah
PP: If we can't bring him to Bayern, our back-up plan is to poison his cigarettes. Or maybe just switch him to menthols, which apparently are extra bad for your lungs.
GL: Bayern has a pretty good record against Madrid. In fact, one of my most painful footballing memories is that epic 2007 Champions League clash (HOW DO YOU GIVE UP A GOAL IN 30 SECONDS COME ON?!?!). Do you think this history will help Bayern as they head into this matchup? And, as you're not a psychic, do you have any memories of Real Madrid as a Bayern fan?
PP: 5 years is a long time between matches, especially when you consider how many huge moments both of our clubs have had (positive and negative) since then. I don't imagine previous matches will mean anything once the whistle is blown. Personally, I actually got to visit the Bernabeu with my wife last year - we saw Real beat Getafe in an exciting match, and also got to tour the trophy room and even walk out onto the pitch. It was dope, we had a great time. The only weird part is that our seats turned out to be right behind these guys: http://www.orgullovikingo.com/ ... a loud and aggressive Real Madrid ultra group. They were harmless and nice, they didn't cause any problems or anything, it was just sort of a surprise to be behind waving flags and banging drums the entire match. They even had some 3-year-old kid who was going crazy with the drum (which was probably bigger than he was). But, overall, I have nothing but good things to say about RM. Of course, once the match gets going, I'm hoping you guys gets crushed and sent home in tears.
GL: Not to bring up a (perhaps) touchy subject, but Bayern is struggling a bit in the Bundesliga. Do you think that they've pinned all their hopes on the Champions League? And if so (I know "pinned all their hopes" is a bit strong) do you think this extra motivation will help?
See, I think stuff like "motiviation" and "pinning hopes on" a certain competition is a little overrated. Before the match, and when they're first taking the pitch, I'm sure the gravity of the occasion weighs on them. And, sure, I guess Bayern is especially eager now that we likely won't be winning the Bundesliga. But once that first tackle is made, I think that stuff (mostly) flies out the window, and you're just trying to make passes, win balls, and create shots on goal.
GL: If you had to describe your side to a Real Madrid fan who had never watched them play, what would you say?
PP: If I were in person and drinking, I'd probably make some non-politically-correct reference to the way the ethnic differences between Iberians and Germans influence the different styles of play. But that's a little heavy for web-site interview talk ... so I guess I'd just say "when we're on, there's nothing in the world better than being a Bayern supporter. When we're not, it's like having your toe-nails ripped off."
GL: Alright, what's your prediction for the tie?
PP: I'm going to say 2-1 Bayern for the first leg. I actually think this is going to be a fantastic match, with a lot of open play and plenty of chances. If it weren't for the presence of two excellent 'keepers, I'd say we'd have even have a chance at a 2-2 or 3-2 finish.