Champions League favourites - Why Bayern Munich are the team to beat

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The Champions League was back in action in midweek, as the round of 16 ties commenced, with four teams putting themselves in pole position for a place in the quarter-finals of European football's elite competition.

One of those teams was reigning champions Bayern Munich, who's 2-0 away win at Arsenal leaves them with one foot in the door of the next stage.

The result was Bayern's sixth win in the Champions League this term, with their one defeat coming at home to Manchester City when qualification was already assured.

That result remains their only loss in all competitions under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, a run of form that has left them 16 points clear of second placed Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, and in the driving seat in the Champions League.

That kind of form makes them worrying opposition for any team left in the competition.

The aforementioned Guardiola is one of the major factors behind the clubs incredible run of results, and he'll be desperate to bag a third Champions League winners medal.

Critics will point to the fact he inherited a Barcelona squad laced with world class talent such as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and that he's now taken over a Bayern team who were at the top of their game having won the treble last season.

However, Pep has somehow improved that treble winning side, with very limited spending.

Yes, Thiago Alcantara joined his former manager for a fee upwards of £20million and Mario Gotze joined from Borussia Dortmund for around £32million, but it's important to remember half of that was recouped through the offloading of Mario Gomez and Luiz Gustavo, leaving Bayern with a very modest net spend of just over £20million.

Compare that to Barcelona's mega-bucks signing of Neymar, or Real Madrid's world record deal for Gareth Bale and you're an accountants dream.

By resisting the urge to make whole-sale changes to his squad, Guardiola was a new manager inheriting a settled team that were ready to go from the start of the season.

Similarly the usual Champions League suspects of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea, as well as big spending Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City all began the season with a new manager, but the changes ran deeper at most of them, with much more action in the transfer market.

That settled side was on full show in the win at the Emirates stadium, with Gotze and Thiago the only players in the 18-man squad who hadn't featured in last season's road to Champions League glory.

The experience of winning the competition can only benefit Bayern as they reach the later stages.

This year there will be no mention of how they haven't won it in over a decade, there's no expectation to lift the trophy in their home ground - as there was in the 2012 final, and there'll be no fear of the unknown as players step out in big games at the business end of the competition.

The are two players who so clearly embody the experience in this current Bayern Munich squad and the ethos of Germany's grandest club - step forward captain Philipp Lahm and his ever-reliable deputy Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Lahm is into his eight season as a first-team regular, while Schweinsteiger is celebrating a decade at the heart of the Munich midfield.

In these two figures, Guardiola has genuine leaders on the pitch who, in the rare ocassion Bayern aren't dominating a game, can rally the troops and take victory at any cost.

In fact, such is Lahm's importance to Guardiola, he has been deployed in a holding midfield role under the Spanish boss, moving from his traditional full back position.

From this deep-lying base Lahm can control the game and his teammates, with Bayern's remaning nine outfield players forming triangles around their trusted leader.

This tactic makes them incredibly hard to disposses, and helps them to get the ball to the feet of their danger men - Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.

Two of the most exciting wingers in world football, they have what it takes to undo any defence. Although Ribery missed the first-leg of the last 16 tie, his imminent return will strike fear into the hearts of any opponent as he looks to show why he came third in the 2013 Ballon d'Or awards.

With the solidity of Lahm and Schweinsteiger and the creativity of Ribery and Robben, it'd be a shame not to have world class finishers. Luckily, in Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Muller, Byaern have two.

Though he often plays from a wide position, Muller has the uncoachable quality of being in the right place at the right time. Possessing an ability which enables him to score all types of goals, Muller has never failed to hit double figures since breaking into the first team.

Add to these strengths the imposing figure of Manuel Neuer in goal, and the kind of strength in depth that means players of the calibre of Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez aren't guaranteed a place in the starting line up, and it's hard to see how anyone can stop Guardiola's side.

Yes, it will be a phenomenal achievement to become the first team to retain the Champions League since it took it's current format in the early 1990's, but it's something that this side are more than capable of, and you can expect to see Lahm holding the famous trophy aloft come the final in Lisbon this May.

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Mario Gotze
Bayern Munich
Franck Ribery

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