Uefa Champions League: Elitist Bayern Munich will not roll out red carpet for run-of-the-mill Rostov

The German champions kick off their Group D campaign at home to the Russians who qualified via the play-offs, pitting European Cup pedigree against relative paupers of continental club competition, writes Ian Hawkey.
Carlo Ancelotti, right, of Bayern Munich, is the most successful manager of the modern Uefa Champions League era. Thilo Schmuelgen / Reuters
Carlo Ancelotti, right, of Bayern Munich, is the most successful manager of the modern Uefa Champions League era. Thilo Schmuelgen / Reuters

In the offices of the serial champions of Germany, in Sabenerstrasse, Munich, you hear a soft purr of contentment. Bayern Munich may have said farewell this summer to the so-called “best coach in the world”, Pep Guardiola, but there are those who view his replacement, the most decorated, manager in the modern Uefa Champions League, Carlo Ancelotti, as perhaps an easier manager to deal with, day to day.

Bayern’s senior executives like the shape that Europe’s principal club tournament is taking, too. Bayern may not have lifted a European Cup for three years, but they have been in the last four for the past five editions.

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They would like, at a minimum, to maintain those standards and never to be outside the elite. Their leading executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, led the pressure group that eked out of Uefa the latest tranche of structural changes that will, from 2018, come even closer to guaranteeing that the competition guards the right of entry for the big clubs from the richer leagues.

Rummenigge did little for the cause of romance when he snorted, earlier this year, that the likes of Bayern and Juventus should not be obliged to meet one another at the last-16 stage of the European Cup while “clubs like PSV, Genk and Wolfsburg are still there”. He demanded a stricter seeding mechanism. Rummenigge then successfully pressed for a future change to the Champions League that means that the four most glamorous domestic leagues in Europe – Spain, Germany, England and Italy – will from 2018 have a quartet of clubs each in the starting-grid, the group phase. In other words, four countries from a continent of more than 50 nations will get half of the 32 places in a mini-league system that captures the imagination of the world.

The group stage for this season begins Tuesday and Wednesday, with clubs from 16 countries playing their opening group fixtures.

Looking for an upset to the hierarchy? Munich’s Allianz Arena is probably the worst place to start. Bayern host the kind of clash that Rummenigge’s protectionism finds a little tiresome. Rostov are the visitors, a Russian club with no pedigree at all in the European Cup except for their remarkable recent route though what the elite regard as an irritating cat-flap in the backdoor to the group stage.

Rostov finished a surprise second in last season’s Russian Premier League, ahead of the likes of Zenit Saint-Petersburg. That gave them a shot, albeit a long one, at keeping, via two knockout rounds, the company of the likes of Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus. How long a shot? Measured by the Uefa coefficient, the basis of European competition seeding and a gauge designed to celebrate consistent performance among the elite, a very long shot indeed. Rostov’s coefficient is just over 11,000 points. Bayern’s is more than 163,000.

But Rostov have a formula that not only worked in Russia but abroad. They defeated Anderlecht of Belgium in the pre-qualifying round, securing progress to the play-offs with a 2-0 win in Brussels. That brought them to a showdown with Ajax, four-time winners of the European Cup. After drawing in Amsterdam, they put four goals past the Dutch side in Russia. That is an extravagant result by Rostov’s standards, their success having been built on stout defending, marginal gains and the sharp finishing of Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun.

Bayern’s modus operandi is distinct. Two matches into the Bundesliga season, Bayern have scored eight goals and conceded none. Goliath has been flexing his muscles ahead of the visit of David, the rank Russian outsiders.

It looks a mismatch. Rostov have only ever played 10 games in European competitions; on Tuesday Ancelotti takes charge of his 149th Champions League fixture, 20 years, almost to the day, since he managed a club team for the first time in Europe.

Ancelotti, formerly of AC Milan, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, has what Rummenigge recognises as pure pedigree, and in a 2016/17 Champions League without either Milan club featuring, without Manchester United or Chelsea, pedigree is a quality the traditional heavyweights worry about, believes needs cultivating, protecting and favouring.

The likes of Rostov must seize their moment. They might not get another go for a while.

FIXTURES:

Tuesday (all kick-off times are 10.45pm UAE)

Group A

• Basel v Ludogorets Razgrad

• Paris Saint-Germain v Arsenal

Group B

• Benfica v Besiktas

• Dynamo Kiev v Napoli

Group C

• Barcelona v Celtic

• Manchester City v Borussia Monchengladbach

Group D

• Bayern Munich v Rostov

• PSV Eindhoven v Atletico Madrid

Wednesday

Group E

• Bayer Leverkusen v CSKA Moscow

• Tottenham Hotspur v Monaco

Group F

• Legia Warsaw v Borussia Dortmund

• Real Madrid v Sporting of Lisbon

Group G

• Brugge v Leicester City

• Porto v Copenhagen

Group H

• Juventus v Sevilla

• Lyon v Dynamo Zagreb

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Published: September 12, 2016 04:00 AM

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