Bayern Munich vs FC Rostov Preview: Ancelotti's men begin pursuit of the elusive big prize

Bayern have not lost an opening game in the Champions Leauge for 14 years, but can they avoid a surprise slip-up against the Russian underdogs?

Bayern Munich vs FC Rostov Preview: Ancelotti's men begin pursuit of the elusive big prize
Photo: VAVEL

Bayern Munich begin their UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday night with what appears to be a straightforward home game against Russian side FC Rostov.

Bayern, under Carlo Ancelotti in Europe for the first time, are looking to win a first Champions League title in four seasons, having failed to even reach a final under Pep Guardiola.

But the Russian side, who exceeded all expectations to finish second in the Russian Premier League last season, will be looking to relish in their role as underdogs, although fellow group D opponents Atlético Madrid and PSV Eindhoven might be easier prey then the German champions.

Ancelotti to be judged on Champions League success

For all of Bayern Munich’s dominance of German football in the three years under Guardiola, there was still a sense that his time in Bavaria was a failure, because of his failure to win Europe’s premier competition.

After Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund at Wembley to complete a treble under Jupp Heynckes in 2013, in the three seasons under Guardiola they lost each time in the semi-finals to one of the big three of Spanish football – Real Madrid C.F., FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League three times as a mananger. | Photo: Sky Sports
Ancelotti has won the Champions League three times as a mananger. | Photo: Sky Sports

The Real side that went on to win the competition in 2014 was of course managed by Ancelotti, who has also won the competition four times with AC Milan – twice as manager, twice as a player (when it was still the European Cup).

“The Champions League is always a special competition for me,” he says. Bayern will hope the game against Rostov will be the beginning of another Champions League winning campaign for both the manager and the club – anything less would be perceived as a failure.

Rostov - The Russian Leicester?

Rostov come from the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, close to the Russian south-eastern coast and just over 100km away from the southern tip of the Ukrainian border. The club were founded in 1930, and since the breakup of the Soviet Union they have spent all but two seasons in the Russian top flight.

As lazy a comparison as it may seem, Rostov very nearly became the ‘Russian Leicester City’ last season. Like Leicester, they came from fighting relegation the season before to challenge the country’s traditional elite, although they were ultimately pipped to the title by CSKA Moscow on the final day. All this despite ongoing financial concerns.

Second place was still enough to give them a shot at a first-ever Champions League campaign. And they overcame two very difficult draws to reach the group stage, beating R.S.C. Anderlecht before stunning AFC Ajax.

The side are now led by Ivan Daniliants, who took over just this month after a summer-long saga regarding the future of the man who led them through their incredible campaign last term, Kurban Berdyev.

Ivan Daniliants was an assistant under Kurban Berdyev. | Photo: FC Rostov

Berdyev was previously the manager of FC Rubin Kazan, and led them to two Russian titles and a memorable away win against Barcelona in 2009. He was subject to much interest from the big Moscow clubs, particularly Spartak Moscow, and ended up resigning in August, but after a U-turn he has now been appointed as Rostov’s vice-president.

Bayern come in twelves

Bayern have started the season in typical fashion, winning both of their Bundesliga fixtures against Werder Bremen and Schalke 04, with victories in the DFL-Supercup against Dortmund and Carl-Zeiss Jena in the DFB-Pokal as well.

They have a couple of impressive records to maintain on Tuesday night. They have won each of their last twelve opening matches in the Champions League, a run stretching back to a 3-2 defeat to Deportivo La Coruña in 2004. They have also won their last twelve successive home games in the competition, a record jointly-held with Manchester United. Bayern would move clear with victory against Rostov.

Rostov have never played in the group stage of a European competition, so are very much in uncharted waters. They reached this stage in impressive fashion with victory against the former European champions Ajax in the play-off round.

After drawing the first leg in Amsterdam 1-1, they took the lead through Sardar Azmoun, before running rampage in fifteen second half minutes. Aleksander Erokhin, Christian Noba and Dmitriy Poloz all scoring as they went 4-0 up, with Davy Klaassen's consolation for the Dutch side not enough.

Rostov players celebrating arguably the club's greatest win against Ajax. | Photo: The Guardian/Valery Matytsin/TASS

Having started their domestic campaign at the end of July, they have won three of their first six games, with defeats against Zenit St Petersburg and Terek Grozny. They resumed after the international break with a 2-1 win against KS Samara.

Bayern won’t underestimate their opponents

Most will expect an easy win for the home side at the Allianz-Arena, although Ancelotti, in public at least, is expecting a tough test. “They're very well organised, they defend with five players,” he said at his press conference on Monday. “It's very difficult to find solutions against them."

“We know games like this one aren't walkovers but hard work. We certainly won't underestimate anyone,” said Thomas Müller, who perhaps had in mind their group stage defeat against Belarusian champions BATE Borisov in 2012, a game in which Bayern were overwhelming favourites to win as well.

Daniliants described the game as “a serious challenge” for Rostov, in his turn with the media on Monday night. “We often watched these games on TV, and now are experiencing these moments ourselves. What will happen tomorrow? We will see.”

He singled out Müller as Bayern’s main danger man, although striker Poloz feels that there are “no weak positions” in the Bayern line-up. “We must play compact, then tomorrow we will have a chance,” he said of how Rostov would face up to the challenge.

Changes expected for both sides

Ancelotti confirmed at his press conference on Monday that he would not rotate his squad heavily. Although he gave no further hints, he did confirm that Joshua Kimmich, who scored his first Bayern goal in the 2-0 win Schalke, would start.

Kimmich celebrating with Philipp Lahm. | Photo: Zimbio/Alex Grimm/Bongarts

Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa could be likely candidates to come in, having been on the bench on Friday night. Kingsley Coman will not be risked, with Ancelotti preferring to save him for the visit of FC Ingolstadt next Saturday, whilst Arjen Robben and Jérôme Boateng are still out but have returned to training in the last few days.

Rostov could be without all three central defenders who played against Ajax. Ivan Novoseltsev has left the club for Zenit St. Petersburg, Fedor Kudryashov is suspended after he was sent off in the second leg of that tie, whilst César Navas has missed the last two games, allegedly due to non-payment of wages, although there have been suggestions both he and Noboa will play Bayern.

Recent signings Miha Mevlja and Papa Gueye are likely to play, having started against Samara. The likes of keeper Soslan Dzhanaev, midfielder and captain Alexandru Gatcan, and last season’s top scorer Azmoun were all rested for that game, and are likely to return to the starting line-up

Predicted line-ups

Bayern Munich: (4-3-3) Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Javi Martínez, Mats Hummels, David Alaba; Joshua Kimmich, Arturo Vidal, Thiago; Thomas Müller, Douglas Costa, Robert Lewandowski.

FC Rostov: (5-3-2) Soslan Dzhanaev; Timofey Kalachev, César Navas, Papa Gueye, Miha Mevlja, Denis Terentjev; Aleksandr Erokhin, Alexandru Gatcan, Christian Noboa; Sardar Azmoun, Dmitriy Poloz.

Quotes via FC Bayern Munich and FC Rostov.