Manchester City fans will be cursing the luck that pitches them against a German heavyweight in the first round for the second year running. For the rest of us, their game against Borussia Dortmund tomorrow gives an early opportunity to assess the quality of the Bundesliga champions, who are fresh from a 5-0 win after an uncertain start to the season.
It also provides the ideal opportunity to look at some of the up-and-coming stars who may face Ireland in Dublin on Friday week. Together with Bayern Munich’s game in Minsk tonight, it could provide a form guide for the whole German side, apart from Mezut Ozil and Sami Khedira who should figure for Real Madrid against Ajax tomorrow.
All the German teams have started well. Bayern always do. The intriguing question is whether Dortmund and their manager Jurgen Klopp have learned from their experience last season, when they found it tough to compete on two fronts. They may be back-to-back German champions but they have gone out of Europe at the group stage two years running.
A year on, they have lost Shinji Kagawa from their attack but replaced him with Marco Reus, the 23-year-old who was Bundesliga player of the year last season, when his pace and skill enabled Moenchengladbach qualify for Europe. Without him Gladbach are struggling and were the victims in Dortmund’s thumping win on Saturday, when Reus scored twice.
Reus and Mario Goetze are the two Germans to watch out for in Dortmund’s lightning attack. At the back, the key man is almost certain to be Mats Hummels, another youngster, destined to be a fixture for both club and country for years to come.
Hummels obviously has a score to settle with Mario Balotelli, so outstanding for Italy in that European semi-final in June, and his comments indicate that Dortmund will defend from the front and seek to break at pace.
“We’re certainly not going to go there and attack them far up the field,” he said yesterday. “We’re going to have to keep it tight and build our attacking game from there. We did that against Gladbach and that will be the approach in Manchester as well.
“Manchester City are a fantastic team, without a doubt, and if we were to lose narrowly, nobody would be saying we’re in a crisis. But I’m confident we have what it takes to match them... and we badly want to come away with something.”
Bayern will be naturally be expected to beat BATE Borisov tonight, although this may not be the pushover you might anticipate. The outsiders in Group F pulled off a great win in Lille two weeks ago, their first-ever away win in the Champions League. They only got five shots on target compared to Lille’s 15, but scored with three of them.
However Bayern are enjoying the same runaway start in the league they had last season: six games, six wins, 19 goals scored just two conceded.
Jupp Heynckes has been rotating his side. He left two key players on the bench for Saturday’s game in Bremen, striker Mario Mandzukic and star recruit Javi Martinez, before bringing them on to kill off the home side in the last 10 minutes.
Arjen Robben, who seems to have mended his fences with the fans after the traumatic end to last season, insists the team are really hungry for a trophy now. But it’s new Croatian striker Mandzukic who has made the difference, scoring at the rate of a goal a game. His strength in the air is a real asset. Their young German stars Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos have also been impressing.
Their attacking strength is such that Bayern have hardly missed last season’s top scorer Mario Gomez, still recovering after an operation two months ago. That might provide some comfort for Giovanni Trapattoni in his preparations — although his obvious replacement, the veteran Miroslav Klose, is still knocking them in at Lazio.