European stalwarts Bayern Munich travelled to Villarreal for their UEFA Champions League opener hoping to take the first step towards a fifth continental title - and they were not disappointed as they walked away with a 2-0 win courtesy of goals from Toni Kroos and new defender Rafinha. Jupp Heynckes' side entered the clash on the back of impressive domestic form, having recovered from their opening day Bundesliga defeat to record four consecutive wins, including a decisive 7-0 thrashing of SC Freiburg last time out. The Bavarians will be relieved to have started their campaign on a high note in what has widely been labelled 'The Group of Death', with Napoli completing the competitive set. Roberto Mancini's side drew 1-1 with the Partenopei in their Group A opener and will be desperate to overcome Bayern next time to get a foothold on their debut campaign in Europe's top club competition. Bayern host City at the Allianz Arena on September 27th before travelling to Manchester in the return fixture in December.
There was nothing surprising about the shape of the Bayern side that lined up against Villarreal, with head coach Jupp Heynckes fielding his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and utilising the in-form Mario Gomez as a lone striker while Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos played deeper, more supporting roles. The early absence of star winger Arjen Robben through injury has given Kroos a chance to make his mark this season and the 21-year-old wasted no time in doing just that at El Madrigal, grabbing the opening goal off a tidy Ribery cross. If Robben returns from a groin problem ahead of the City clash it is likely the experienced Dutchman will slot into the line-up to provide maximum impact on the wing. Heynckes chose to make two changes against Villarreal from the side that thumped SC Freiburg the weekend before, bringing in the experience of Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in midfield in place of Luiz Gustavo, while summer signing Rafinha dropped to the bench for Daniel van Buyten. The Brazilian did not have to wait long to see some involvement, however, stepping in at right-back, with Jerome Boateng moving into central defence, when Van Buyten was forced off with a leg injury early on. Rafinha then made sure his contribution was a memorable one, firing home Bayern's second goal in the dying stages. It remains to be seen what form Heynckes' defence will take against City, with the coach's back four still in a period of transition after some strengthening in the latest transfer window.
Currently in his third spell at Bayern after arriving in July, the highly-decorated Jupp Heynckes has extensive experience in Europe and over 30 years of management under his belt. The 66-year-old is also no stranger to success on the continent having guided Real Madrid to European Cup glory on his first and only season at the Bernabeu in 1997-98. Heynckes' initial stint at Bayern began in 1987 and proved to be particularly fruitful, with the German leading the Bavarians to back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 1989 and 1990. General manager Uli Hoeness sacked Heynckes in October 1991 and later branded that decision as 'the biggest mistake of his career'. Heynckes spent a brief second spell with Die Roten as caretaker manager in 2009 following the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann but left after just a couple of months to take over at Bayer Leverkusen, who he led to second place in the Bundesliga last term. Heynckes was no less successful as a player, featuring for Borussia Monchengladbach during their golden era of the 1960s and 70s and establishing himself as one of the all-time top strikers in Bundesliga history. With a wealth of experience behind him and a raft of silverware in his trophy cabinet, Heynckes is a formidable figure to challenge counterpart Roberto Mancini when Bayern take on City.
Bayern's strongest attribute is undoubtedly their attack, with the Bavarians having knocked home 16 goals in their opening five Bundesliga games this season. Striker Gomez is in hot goalscoring form so far, having netted seven times in the last two matches, while the presence of Muller in a supporting role is always a formidable one. But the stars of Bayern's show are indisputably Robben and Ribery, with the latter looking lively and at times downright dangerous on the left wing against Villarreal. Should Robben return from injury before the City encounter then it is likely the duo will run Mancini's backline ragged and it will be interesting to see how the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolorov deal with the assault. Bayern also have the experienced Bastian Schweinsteiger, a player Heynckes believes is on a level with Barcelona's Xavi and Andres Iniesta when in form, to anchor their midfield, which should lead to some interesting tussles with David Silva and Gareth Barry. Another of Bayern's strongest assets is summer acquisition Manuel Neuer, widely rated as one of Europe's brightest goalkeeping prospects. The German, who joined Bayern from Bundesliga rivals Schalke in July and was a reported target of City's fierce rivals Manchester United, has been in impressive form so far this season, with the Villarreal result marking his seventh successive clean sheet.
An obvious weakness for Bayern would be the absence of Robben if he fails to shrug off his groin injury, but even without the Netherlands international the German side's attacking force is solid. Bayern's potential downfall instead lies in their backline. A big talking point last season was the German side's fragile defence after they finished a disappointing third in the Bundesliga. The problem was addressed by Heynckes this summer, with the new coach bringing in Rafinha and Boateng to provide some strong competition to the back four. This revamped backline has barely been tested in the league and it remains to be seen whether it is solid enough to repel City's daunting, star-studded attack. The likes of Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero have shown blistering form in domestic action so far this season, while the presence of Carlos Tevez is enough to put even the most experienced defender on edge. One saving grace for the Bavarians is Germany captain Philipp Lahm at left-back, who has no fear of getting forward and linked up superbly with Ribery against Villarreal.
Robben and Ribery are unquestionably the driving force behind Bayern and should be treated with the utmost caution by City if both turn out. Such is the duo's influence in the team that is has been argued that Bayern are dependent on whether the two wingers are match fit and in form as to how well the Bavarians fare. Ribery did nothing to dispel that claim at Villarreal, putting in a dazzling shift to cause continuous problems for the Spanish side's defence. Striker Gomez is also one to keep an eye on and is likely to keep the goals flowing this season with such experienced players operating as his support system.
Bayern are European heavyweights with a history of success on the continent - something the developing Manchester City cannot relate to. Mancini's side will no doubt be wary of a team that are accustomed to handling the pressures of being a legitimate title candidates, but can take comfort from the fact that Heynckes men are still a side in transition, particularly with a backline that is yet to settle. With quality and realms of talent at both City and Bayern's disposal, their encounters should not only be entertaining but could end up shining a clearer light on which side will prevail in Group A.