Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen will be looking for the perfect start to the Champions League group stages on Wednesday, against Olympiacos and BATE Borisov respectively. Taking the next step is crucial.
In recent years, both Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen have fallen short of each club's own targets in Europe's elite club competition. But as the group stage begins on Wednesday for these sides, could plans be falling into place for big things under the bright lights?
It has always been Bayern Munich's expectation to win the Champions League. Since Jupp Heynckes' historic treble, the German giants have reached the semifinals three times in a row, but have failed to go any further. While Bundesliga titles have been simpler to capture, the greatest prize in club football has been out of Bayern's reach since Pep Guardiola's arrival.
"Everyone has to give their all there and put in 100 percent on the pitch, or things can go astray," warned Guardiola. Thomas Müller, who has scored nine goals in all competitions this season, confirmed that "The main objective is - and remains - winning the Champions League.”
Bayern's start to Champions League campaigns has been consistently excellent. Eleven straight wins, conceding just two goals, have seen the German champions off to the perfect start more often than not. In the hostile Greek atmosphere of Olympiacos' Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, the players' cool heads will be tested.
“They hit the gas for 90 minutes. The fans never stop singing and get right behind their team,” Jerome Boateng told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. “It will be a very hostile atmosphere.” But it's not how you start, it's how you finish, and for Bayern, the finish must come in Milan in May next year.
Can Leverkusen break the mould?
Like Bayern, Leverkusen has had problems with taking that next step on the biggest European stage. For the last six seasons the club has progressed out of the group stages, but like last year against Atletico Madrid, each time they have fallen short at the first knockout hurdle.
At the weekend, Leverkusen came unstuck against the Bundesliga's fairytale story of Darmstadt, who have used a long-ball tactic to perfection thus far. New signings Kevin Kampl and Javier Hernandez both played their part, but will be hoping to contribute further in a game that Bayer are expected to win.
“Chicharito has great attacking qualities, but I haven't yet decided if he'll start," said Roger Schmidt at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday. "We had set our sights high as this was our first game with this squad. If you then lose at home, that is obviously disappointing but we just have to accept and learn from it. We're considered favorites in this game, but we won't underestimate BATE."
With Roma and Barcelona joining them to make up Group E, Leverkusen knows that picking up maximum points against the fourth seeded team is vital. But like Bayern, a further step taken in this season's competition is the goal. A swift start at home to BATE could spark belief into a repeat of the 2002 Champions League final, eventually seeing Leverkusen finish as runners-up.