Villarreal coach Unai Emery: knocking out Bayern Munich my greatest challenge

Spanish side head to Germany for Champions League quarter-final second leg with 1-0 advantage

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“The greatest challenge of my career,” Unai Emery called Tuesday's mission in Munich. It is a big call from a man with a long back catalogue of giant-killing feats.

How might a Villarreal who were to defend a 1-0 lead away at Bayern Munich - this evening’s task - compare with, say, a team who wins three successive Europa Leagues, which was the record-breaking achievement of Emery’s period as head coach of Sevilla?

That run included a final in which Liverpool were defeated. Or, more fresh in the memory, Emery’s march, with Villarreal, to last season’s Europa League, the manager’s fourth in the competition? Manchester United were the silver-medallists. Or would eliminating Bayern rank higher than winning 3-0 at Juventus, as Villarreal did last month?

He thinks so, and any Spaniard assessing the aura of the serial German champions in their Bavarian home, is inclined to regard them as the stiffest of challenges. Liga clubs have suffered there. Barcelona went to the Allianz Arena four months ago and lost 3-0. Atletico Madrid were there a year earlier, and lost 4-0, and the last time Bayern met Spanish opposition at this, the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, they put eight goals past Barcelona within a single 90 minutes.

So much for past form. By Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann’s admission, momentum has stalled for the Bundesliga leaders in the past two games. On Saturday, Augsburg were beaten by the minimum margin, and not until the 82nd minute, when Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty. Last Wednesday, they found no answers at Villarreal to Arnaut Danjuma’s early goal in a first leg that exhibited to the maximum Emery’s excellence as a planner and organiser of knockout matches.

“Villarreal made a mistake in the first leg,” said Nagelsmann. “And that was letting us leave still alive in the tie.”

Villarreal's head coach Unai Emery oversees a training session. EPA

It was a candid confession that Bayern had been out-thought and that Emery’s team might have at least doubled their advantage through the regular threat they posed on the counter-attack.

More chastening for the biggest club in Germany in the first leg of their contest with the side from a town of barely 50,000 was that, as Nagelsmann acknowledged, Villarreal’s game management had been sharper, the seasoned Emery trumping the precocious, 34-year-old Nagelsmann with his experience and know-how.

For Tuesday, the Bayern coach called for “a few German virtues,” making it clear that his players should be tougher in their tackles, unafraid of some spoiling tactics if necessary.

Bayern’s captain, Manuel Neuer, described a dressing-room piqued by Villarreal’s surprise victory. “We’re not to be underestimated when we’ve lost a game in the way we did at Villarreal,” said Neuer, with a nod to how his teammates have responded after their setbacks in the league this season. They have lost four Bundesliga games during the campaign, and always won the next domestic fixture, usually handsomely, scoring four or five goals.

Few of the defences they have faced, though, have been as drilled as the Villarreal back four were six nights ago, with Juan Foyth, the former Tottenham Hotspur player outstanding.

“This team has grown by adapting itself to new demands,” said Emery. “We did it through the Europa League last season, and we set high standards for ourselves with our defensive work. But the whole team are involved in that, we defend as a unit and attack as a unit. In Munich we have to be in charge defensively and stay dangerous going forward. What we did in the home leg isn’t enough to sit back on.”

Emery took the radical step of resting all his starting XI from the first leg for the weekend’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao, despite Villarreal needing Liga points to maintain their chase for a place in the table that would guarantee European football next season. Barring late injury, the same players who tamed Nagelsmann’s side last week will line up again.

Bayern will be without central defender Niklas Sule, who is suffering from flu, and midfielder Corentin Tolisso, recovering from a hamstring injury. But they will not be lacking heart, promised the head coach. “Sometimes pressure stimulates a special performance,” said Nagelsmann. “We should, and we want to deliver one.”

Villarreal 1 Bayern Munich 0 - in pictures

Updated: April 12, 2022, 11:04 AM