Maccabi Haifa v Bayern Munich, Champions League, September 15, 2009
Group A action from the Champions League kicks off Tuesday when Bayern Munich travel to Israel to face Maccabi Haifa. With both sides coming off of impressive wins over the weekend an explosive start could well play out in the Middle East.
After an abysmal start to the season (2 points in 3 games), Bayern’s form has gradually and consistently improved over the last few weeks including last weekendâ€™s 5-1 thrashing of Borussia Dortmund. The recent upturn has coincided with the arrival of Arjen Robben, the Dutchman having been controversially forced out of Real Madrid’s Galacticos, and his presence alongside Franck Ribery has been the spark-plug behind Bayern’s turnaround in the past few weeks.
Whether you term them “Robbiry” or “Rib-Rob,” Bayern’s pacey forwards will prove to be a tough test for the Haifa defenders as both men are on excellent, goalscoring form.
At Dortmund the Bayern attack was sizzling, and Louis van Gaalâ€™s side will be hard to contain if they continue that way on Tuesday. The talented wing-duo will look to feed the ball to Mario Gomez, who will be spearheading the Bayern attack as the lone forward. With Miroslav Klose not making the trip due to injury it will be interesting to see how Van Gaal handles talented upstart Thomas Muller, whoâ€™s brace against Dortmund gave him a strong case for minutes against Haifa. Phillip Lahm and Bastian Shweinsteiger will also be a handful, as Haifa will certainly be outmatched in regards to pure football talent.
Maccabi Haifa are also in great form after spanking lowly Hapoel Ramat Gan 3-1 on the weekend after conceding early on in the contest, the Greens having progressed into the Champions league proper after crushing Austrian outfit FC Salzburg 5-1 on aggregate.
The Israelis will field one of the youngest sides in the Champions League, hoping that the ingredients of energy, raw talent, and a sold-out Ramat Gan stadium will fuel their team of youngsters to an early lead.
Haifa will look to veteran captain Yaniv Katan to manage the front-end of Haifaâ€™s squad, while defender Dekel Keinanâ€™s return after his Champions League suspension will add some much needed stability to the Haifa defence.
The wild card comes when talking of Haifaâ€™s teen sensationâ€™s Eyal Golasa. Golasa, who draws comparisons to former Haifa no. 15 Yossi Benayoun, was brilliant against Salzburg and will be responsible for a great deal of the attacking movement against Bayern. Haifa will also look for goals from Vladimer Dvalishvili and Shlomi Arbeitman, the latter being in excellent form this season with 4 goals in his last 3 matches.
This will be the first Champions League game played in Israel. Haifaâ€™s last campaign forced them to host games in nearby Cyprus, and despite wins against Manchester United and Olympiakos the home crowd was needed. Israeli football generally disappoints when it comes to filling out the stands, but this campaign for Haifa has taken the country by storm and 40,000 strong will sit in the tight and sweaty Ramat-Gan arena to push Haifa on.
This game can go one of two ways: conventional thinking would give an easy win to Bayern, who are by far the more dominant side. However, this is the group stage and there is always one giant who falls, and this week it may prove to be Bayern.
101predicts: Maccabi Haifa 2 – Bayern Munich 1 (18/1)
Full match odds here.