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Champions League: Mane seeks to validate Bayern Munich’s strategy against Lewandowski and Barcelona

18:49 BST 12/09/2022
Mane Lewandowski
The European giants do battle on matchday two where the Senegal star faces off with the forward he effectively replaced in the summer

Bayern Munich are in a somewhat strange place heading into matchday two in this season’s Champions League.

Julian Nagelsmann’s crew dispatched Inter Milan with ease last week but their Bundesliga form has concerned observers, who have been quick to point out the absence of a recognised centre-forward. FC Hollywood are third in the standings, although they sit just two points off early-season high flyers Union Berlin.

Three successive draws against Borussia Monchengladbach, Union and Stuttgart have produced 33, 21 and 19 shots at goal respectively. Only 32 of those 73 shots have been on target, and the fact Bayern have managed to hit the back of the net four times raises more doubts.

“What if they had a natural striker to convert these chances they are creating?” is the question most observers are asking. Indeed, the German giants let one go in the summer when they finally granted Robert Lewandowski his wish to chase a new challenge at Barcelona after eight years at the Allianz Arena.

That adds to the sub-plots before both clubs face off on Tuesday night, where the Poland superstar returns to his old stomping ground to square up with old friends.

The schadenfreude that has met Bayern’s recent absence of domestic victories has failed to ignore the bigger picture of an alteration in approach from Nagelsmann in Bavaria.

At the forefront of that is Sadio Mane, Die Bayern’s superstar acquisition in the summer after a period of individual and collective success with Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, whose arrival signalled the German outfit’s inclination to do things differently in the attacking third.

Wanting to spread the goals around, Nagelsmann has moved away from servicing a natural striker in the hope of creating a fluid, unpredictable attack.

This amorphous shape in the final third has already seen them score six goals against Eintracht Frankfurt, hit Bochum for seven and find the back of the net five times against RB Leipzig and Vicktoria Koln in the Super Cup and DFB Pokal respectively.

Mane, for his part, has had a decent-to-good start to life at Sabener Strasse but has not been the club’s best attacker in 2022-23 despite scoring three league goals in five starts.

That early-season award goes to Jamal Musiala — scorer of four Bundesliga goals and contributor of a sole assist — or Leroy Sane — who has picked up the slack in recent weeks and was an evident tactical weapon in last week’s 2-0 win at San Siro.

The former Manchester City wide attacker moving into narrow positions saw nominal left-back Alphonso Davies take up higher positions down that flank, thus seeing Bayern’s 4-2-2-2 shape morph into a 3-1-3-3 in the attacking phase.

Mane was part of the front three whose movement and tactical understanding unsettled Inter’s defence in the rather routine 2-0 success, even though he did not open his Champions League account for his new side.

While that was happening, Lewandowski was scoring a hat-trick as Barcelona make mincemeat of Viktoria Plzen in a 5-1 thrashing in which Franck Kessie opened his account for the club and followed up with his trademark celebration.

The recent history has favoured Bayern in this head-to-head but another resounding 8-2 success over the Spanish giants is not expected, nor is a repeat of last season’s 3-0 triumph which was Xavi’s second Champions League game in charge of his beloved Blaugrana.

One game will not validate or undermine Nagelsmann’s change in strategy, but another strong performance against a much-improved Barcelona will send a resounding statement across Europe.

Group A’s major fixture sees Liverpool host Ajax seeking a response after yet another dismal showing at Napoli. Mohamed Salah had a night to forget in Naples as the Reds suffered a 4-1 loss at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and they need to show something different at Anfield.

Calvin Bassey is an injury doubt, but the versatile defender will relish going head-to-head with Salah while the in-form Mohammed Kudus will back himself to make the most of the Reds’ hitherto uncertain defending.

Table-topping Napoli do battle with Rangers without their travelling support but Andre Zambo Anguissa and his colleagues will want to consolidate their opening matchday success with another authoritative showing at Ibrox.

Abakar Sylla had a Champions League debut to remember last time out, scoring the only goal as Club Brugge defeated Edmond Tapsoba’s Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 and they travel to Porto where Zaidu Sanusi and his colleagues look for a response after last week’s dramatic 2-1 loss at Atletico Madrid.

Raphael Onyedika, Denis Odoi and Kamal Sowah ought to respectively continue in midfield and defence for the Belgian outfit.

The other game in Group B sees Atletico travel to Leverkusen, where Reinildo Isnard Mandava and Geoffrey Kondogbia look to outdo the Bundesliga team.

Chancel Mbemba’s 47th-minute dismissal at Tottenham Hotspur left Olympique Marseille in the lurch in the eventual 2-0 defeat but Eric Bailly and co. aim for a response when the Ligue 1 side welcome Frankfurt to the Velodrome in Group C.

Yves Bissouma’s Champions League bow was nothing more than a five-minute cameo and the Mali international could make his full debut in Spurs’ trip to Sporting.

Group E threw up one of the competition’s biggest shocks when Dinamo Zagreb stunned 2021 winners Chelsea, a game that proved to be Thomas Tuchel’s last in the Blues dugout.

While Hakim Ziyech and, to a lesser extent, Kalidou Koulibaly had games to forget in Zagreb, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s decision-making cost him a debut goal and Edouard Mendy was replaced by Kepa in the XI.

It remains to be seen how pivotal the quartet will be under Graham Potter and whether they feature when Chelsea play host to Red Bull Salzburg on Wednesday.

The other game in that draw sees Ismael Bennacer’s AC Milan host Dinamo, wary of the Croatian outfit’s threat and potential to silence the San Siro crowd.

Abdou Diallo was part of the RB Leipzig side that suffered a 4-1 thrashing by a Shakhtar Donetsk side last week and the Bundesliga side face a herculean task at the home of defending champions Real Madrid.

Amadou Haidara will hope for more than an eight-minute cameo at the Santiago Bernabeu especially after scoring at the weekend in Leipzig’s 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.

Erling Haaland doing battle with his old side will dominate Wednesday’s action, but Riyad Mahrez will hope for a Champions League recall having only been utilised in a 12-minute cameo at beleaguered Sevilla last week.

The pick of Africans in the final group is undoubtedly Achraf Hakimi who set up the second of Kylian Mbappe’s two goals in the 2-1 success over Juventus.

Paris Saint-Germain’s aim at Maccabi Haifa will not only be maximum points but a 90-minute performance after only showing the best version of themselves for the opening half against the Old Lady.

Another matchday of Champions League football is upon us with Mane's face-off with Lewandowski creating the leading headline while Chelsea’s African contingent will hope for a new lease of life under their new boss.

More unanticipated events are predicted in this uniquely compressed group stage and it is anyone’s guess to tell what happens next. Watch this space.