MUNICH – Bayern Munich has been relying on its fearsome attack to overcome a shortage of trained defenders. That has worked with hardly a hitch in the Bundesliga, where Bayern is rarely challenged.
The latest example: Bayern hardly broke a sweat in a 5-0 thrashing of Werder Bremen on Saturday. Werder was limited to 17 percent possession, while Bayern's coach Pep Guardiola rested Arjen Robben and top striker Robert Lewandowski only played the last 15 minutes, long enough to score.
Bayern usually seizes immediate control and puts the opponent under tremendous pressure from the first whistle. How effective it can be was evident in the first leg against Juventus in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. For an hour, Bayern dominated the Italian champion and led 2-0.
But then Juventus exploited the lack of experience and size in Bayern's defense as Paulo Dybala and Stefano Sturaro scored to put last season's Champions League runner-up back on level terms. The return leg is on Wednesday in Munich.
Both goals came after errors by Joshua Kimmich, a midfielder thrust into Bayern's central defense by Guardiola. Guardiola has been full of praise for Kimmich, but he does not have the stature of a central defender.
Guardiola has been forced to experiment because three of his defenders — Holger Badstuber, Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng — are on the long-term injury list.
Two-time champion Juventus may have figured out where Bayern could be vulnerable.
"We go to Munich full of enthusiasm and determination to reach the next round. We're fully aware of how strong Bayern are, but they also possess a few weak points which we'll look to exploit," defender Leonardo Bonucci said.
"No doubt about it, we started the first leg in completely the wrong fashion. It had nothing to do with what formation we were playing, we knew that we had to give more. We confronted one another face to face and took it upon ourselves to come out fighting and, from that point onwards, we saw the true Juventus once more," Bonucci said of the first leg.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm does not expect the return leg to be much different.
"We are not going to change our game. We are a team that attacks a lot," the captain of the five-time Champions League winner said. "But it's hardly possible to shut down Juventus completely and to prevent them from having any chances."
Some things to know about Wednesday's match:
Bayern may be fearsome in attack but it is coming up against the rock that is Gianluigi Buffon, who is in the form of his life.
The Juventus goalkeeper is three minutes away from equaling a 22-year Serie A record after keeping a 10th successive clean sheet in Friday's 1-0 win over Sassuolo.
Buffon has not been beaten in Serie A in 926 minutes, now the second-longest stretch in league history.
The unbeaten record in Serie A is held by Sebastiano Rossi, who kept a clean sheet for 929 consecutive minutes for AC Milan from Dec. 12, 1993, to Feb. 27, 1994, beating the previous mark set by former Juventus goalkeeper Dino Zoff in 1972-73 by 26 minutes.
Buffon can match Rossi's record in next weekend's derby match at Torino.
"He deserves it," Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio said. "What he has already done is incredible, never mind the four minutes that remain. We are proud too, because 99 percent is down to him, but we are happy to be able to add that 1 percent, giving him a hand and protecting him.
"Gigi is very important not only on the pitch but also in the dressing rooms as a captain and as a man. Every day he shows his professionalism and desire to always improve himself."
THE MANDZUKIC FACTOR
Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic will be eager to return to Munich, where he played for two seasons but was released.
Mandzukic did not score in Turin but he was a constant threat and has the size and drive to bother Bayern's defense.
At least, that's what Bayern captain Philipp Lahm expects.
"Mario was always eager, also when he played for us. He will want to prove himself against his old club, that's normal," Lahm said.
Two other players will be seeing old teammates again — Arturo Vidal and Kingsley Coman played for Juventus before arriving in Bayern this season.
However, Mandzukic is a doubt for the match after appearing to be limping when he was substituted on Friday.
Definitely out is Marchisio, while defender Giorgio Chiellini is almost certain to join him on the sidelines.
Bayern has a top striker in Robert Lewandowski as well as the mercurial all-rounder Thomas Mueller but its most effective force may be its wingers.
Veterans Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben can tear apart any defense, while their backups Kingsley Coman and Douglas Costa have proven to be almost as effective in their first season with the club.
Ribery is only coming back after an ankle injury he sustained against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League a year ago. The Frenchman is hitting form in the key stage of the season. Ribery and Robben were injured last year as Bayern got knocked out of the German Cup and the Champions League in the semifinals.
"We have four incredible players on the flanks," coach Pep Guardiola said.
It remains to be seen whom he picks to play against Juventus. Coman set up three goals in the 5-0 Bundesliga win over Werder Bremen, but Ribery and Robben have experience on their side.