Champions League: Injury-hit Bayern Munich face Benfica test | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 19.09.2018
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Champions League: Injury-hit Bayern Munich face Benfica test

Niko Kovac will make his Champions League coaching bow, while Thomas Müller could mark his 100th appearance in the competition. Expectations are high for the Bundesliga champions after years of European disappointment.

Bayern Munich open their Champions League campaign as clear favorites against Benfica in Lisbon on  Wednesday, as the Portuguese giants haven't beaten the serial Bundesliga champions in their last six attempts.  

However, while Bayern fans may expect a smooth ride through the group stage, having drawn Ajax and AEK Athens in addition to Benfica, they go into this one missing three key players due to injury.

Read more: Bayern Munich recover from early shock to beat 10-man Bayer Leverkusen

Pressure on Kovac

But the Bavarians are coming into the match on the back of three straight league victories in which they've scored nine goals. While Kovac will be coaching his first Champions League game, he is not a total stranger to the competition, with 17 appearances as a player under his belt.

But the pressure is on, as the fans and management are surely expecting nothing but a win in Lisbon and the responsibility will fall squarely on Kovac. As with all of Bayern's recent bosses, the club's Bundesliga dominance means extra weight is placed on Champions League football, Bayern haven't reached the final since winning it in 2013.

Read more: Five things that could cause Bayern Munich trouble in 2018-19

Despite the relative status of the two clubs, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge warned against over-confidence ahead of the match. "It is important that we start well. We are the favorites but I warn against underestimating this group," he said.

Müller's 100th

If ,as is likely, Thomas Müller features on Wednesday night, he'll mark his 100th Champions League appearance and become the 35th player to reach that landmark. He could be joined in the XI by Leon Goretzka, who had an injury scare in training on Monday, but was ultimately passed fit for Lisbon.

Also back on duty will be Franck Ribery, who missed the win over Leverkusen with an upset stomach. Having lost Kingsley Coman, Rafinha and Corentin Tolisso to serious injuries, the latter two last weekend, the door could be open for players like James Rodriguez and Renato Sanches to make an appearance. Both players have experience in Portugal.

Sanches is a product of the Benfica academy and broke through to the club'S first team before arriving in Munich. James, on the other hand, played three seasons for Benfica's arch-rival Porto and has scored against the Lisbon club once. DEspite an excellent 2017-18 campaign, the Colombian midfielder has not yet started for Bayern this season.

In defense, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer echoed Rummenigge's caution and reflected on the excitement from the locker room. "We're glad it starts again. The Champions League is a special competition of course, you start from scratch there. It surely won't be easy away to Benfica. We'll have to give it everything," he said.

Read more: Bastian Schweinsteiger says goodbye to Bayern Munich with testimonial goal

A tough time for Lisbon

Benfica are coming into the game with something to prove. Their most recent performance in the Champions League was beyond disappointing, having exited at the group stage with no points. Their history with Bayern is bitter. Most recently, in 2016 Pep Guardiola's side knocked them out of the quarter-finals.

This will be their 38th Champions League campaign, the most of any club except Real Madrid and they will be led by coach Rui Vitoria, who has been with the team since 2015. Hoping to disrupt Bayern's defense will be top-class central midfielder Pizzi and winger Eduardo Salvio, who have provided a good chunk of Benfica's goalscoring of late.

With the absence of last year's top scorer Jonas, due to a back injury, Haris Seferovic is liklely to lead the offense for the Lisbon side. Seferovic has some history with Niko Kovac; he arrived at Benfica from Kovac's old club Eintracht Frankfurt in 2015.

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