Bayern Munich are feeling the effects of a punishing schedule, and Kevin Hatchard believes that will lead to a thrilling game against in-form Lazio...
"Bayern remain one of the best attacking sides in Europe, but defensively they can be a shambles at times. This should be a lot of fun."
Lazio v Bayern Munich
Tuesday 23 February, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 3
Lazio able to enjoy Champions League adventure
Lazio's lack of Champions League experience showed through on Matchday Six of the group stage, as they did their best to blow it, but snuck through to the last 16 like a child taking a midnight snack back to bed. The Romans only needed to avoid defeat against Club Brugge at the Stadio Olimpico, but they twice gave up the lead in a jittery 2-2 draw against a team that played most of the game with ten men. The Belgians even hit the woodwork in the dying embers of the match.
However, that's all in the past now, and Simone Inzaghi's underdogs have an outside shot at greatness. Their form in 2021 has been strong, with Inter the only team to beat them in Serie A. The Biancoceleste have won their last six league games at the Olimpico, and their list of victims includes Napoli and Roma.
Luis Alberto is back after an appendix operation, and the classy Spanish midfielder scored the only goal of the weekend's 1-0 win over Sampdoria. First-choice keeper Thomas Strakosha is injured, so former Bayern keeper Pepe Reina will continue to deputise.
Bruised Bayern have to dig deep
One of the beauties of the German football programme "Das aktuelle Sportstudio" is that they are able to book guests ahead of the day's Bundesliga football, so there are moments when something big breaks during the day, and it just so happens that the perfect guest has already been lined up for the evening. On Saturday, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was on the hot seat to react to the champions' 2-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt. He pulled no punches, lambasting Leroy Sane and Niklas Süle for their roles in the Frankfurt goals, and he demanded more concentration and commitment.
The Bavarian giants are still a formidable machine, but it's a machine in need of repair and recalibration.
Thomas Müller and Benjamin Pavard have been sidelined by COVID-19, the desperately unlucky Corentin Tolisso has suffered yet another long-term injury and the midfield axis of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka hasn't played together as much as coach Hansi Flick would have liked. If you throw in a compacted schedule (34 competitive games and counting) that makes the Labours of Hercules look like a picnic, then it's understandable that Bayern are below their optimum level.
A running theme is Bayern's fragility in defence. They have already leaked 31 Bundesliga goals, one shy of their total for the whole of last season. They have conceded multiple goals in eight of their 22 league games, and that figure would be higher if it wasn't for some stellar displays from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Of course, we shouldn't forget that Bayern also have German football's most fearsome attack. They have smashed in 62 goals in 22 league games, and at time of writing Robert Lewandowski (26 goals) had scored more Bundesliga goals this term than six of the 18 top-flight clubs.
Goretzka should return to the starting XI after coming on as a half-time sub in Frankfurt, while Serge Gnabry is working hard to be fit. Right-back remains a big concern - Pavard is out, Bouna Sarr is short of form, and Süle had a tough game in Frankfurt.
Bashed-up Bayern a bit too short
As Borussia Dortmund found out in the group stage, a trip to face Lazio is never easy, and in their current state Bayern look too short in the Match Odds market here at 1.738/11. I think they will come through the tie, and I still believe they'll win the tournament, but they might have to grit their teeth here and soak up a bit of punishment.
Lazio have only lost twice at home by multiple goals in all competitions, and you can back them +1.0 here on the Asian Handicap at 1.84/5, which means you only lose if Bayern win by two goals or more.
Bayern's form suggests goals are on the cards
Lazio's quality in attack is formidable. In Ciro Immobile (14 goals in Serie A, five in the UCL) they have one of Italy's finest marksmen, while Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (five goals and seven assists in Serie A) are both excellent attacking midfielders. Lazio have scored multiple goals in nine of their last 15 competitive outings.
Bayern's offensive power and defensive deficiencies should make for an entertaining combination here, so I'll back Over 3.5 Goals at 2.285/4. That bet has landed in 18 of their 34 competitive matches this term.
Immobile to shine in strikers' battle
He didn't enjoy his time in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, but Ciro Immobile remains a top-class striker. He has netted in 17 of his last 23 competitive appearances, and is 7/5 on the Sportsbook to find the net. He'll look to get in behind Bayern's high defensive line, and I'm sure he'll get chances to score.
Lewandowski is a rather less appealing 8/15, but he is 13/5 to score multiple goals, something he has managed nine times for club and country this season.