German giants Bayern Munich will travel to Austria for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Red Bull Salzburg on Wednesday night.
Die Roten Bullen head into the knockout rounds as huge underdogs but they can be encouraged by Bayern’s surprise Bundesliga defeat to VfL Bochum last weekend.
Red Bull Salzburg became the first Austrian side in Champions League history to reach the knockout rounds after finishing second in Group D with 10 points from their six matches, just one point behind group winners Lille.
Accumulating seven points from their opening three games put Die Roten Bullen in a strong position to qualify, before back-to-back defeats against Wolfsburg and Lille left their last-16 hopes hanging in the balance.
Matthias Jaissle’s men required at least a point against Sevilla in their final group fixture to advance, but they managed to secure all three thanks to a second-half strike from Noah Okafor, which sparked wild celebrations from the Salzburg camp.
At just 33 years of age, Jaissle deserves a lot of credit for steering his Salzburg side into the last 16, in tandem with extending their lead at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga to 14 points, with a ninth successive top-flight crown now theirs to lose.
Salzburg, who have won only one of their last six games against German opposition, now face the daunting task of going up against one of the tournament favourites in the form of Bayern Munich.
Die Roten Bullen will be familiar with the six-time European champions, after locking horns in last season’s group stage. They did, however, suffer defeat on both occasions and conceded nine goals in the process.
For the 19th successive season, Bayern Munich have reached the knockout rounds of the Champions League, after completing the group stage with a 100% record, a feat only two other teams can match in this season’s competition.
Victories home and away against Barcelona, Benfica and Dynamo Kiev saw the Bavarian outfit breeze into the last 16 as Group E winners, scoring 22 goals and conceding just three.
While their Champions League form has been impeccable, Bayern have suffered a slight blip in the Bundesliga recently, losing two of their last five matches, including a surprise 4-2 beating by Bochum last weekend.
Bayern’s 7-0 thrashing in the reverse fixture was quickly forgotten by the hosts, who came from behind to secure a memorable victory, condemning Julian Nagelsmann’s men to just their fourth league defeat of the campaign. The gap to the Bundesliga summit has now been cut to six points, with Borussia Dortmund the nearest challengers to Bayern in second place, but the Bavarians will still be confident of claiming their 10th successive title this term.
Wednesday’s Champions League encounter will be the fourth time Bayern Munich face an Austrian team in the knockout stages of a European competition. In each of their last three two-legged ties, they have progressed to the next round, beating Rapid Wien in the 1966-67 Cup Winners’ Cup and Austria Wien in successive European Cup campaigns in 1985-86 and 1986-87.
However, Bayern failed to win any of their three away games against their Austrian counterparts, and relied on their home form to get them over the line. Such a statistic will give Salzburg confidence, as they have a 100% home record in this season’s competition, beating Lille, Wolfsburg and Sevilla.
Having said that, Bayern currently boast the longest unbeaten run away from home in the history of the European Cup/Champions League, as they have not lost any of their last 21 matches on the road, and the Bavarians will be strongly favoured to extend this impressive run in midweek.
Red Bull Salzburg Champions League form:
Red Bull Salzburg form (all competitions):
Bayern Munich Champions League form:
Bayern Munich form (all competitions):
We say: Red Bull Salzburg 1-3 Bayern Munich
While Bayern Munich will understandably be the strong favourites to win on Wednesday, Salzburg are likely to have their moments on home soil and they will be confident of getting their name on the scoresheet against a Bayern side who have conceded in four of their last five matches.
However, the prolific form of star man Lewandowski should be enough to help the visitors secure a healthy first-leg advantage.