Champions League: Villarreal focused on stopping Bayern's Lewandowski

Villarreal knows its chances of advancing past Bayern Munich in the Champions League will depend largely on whether it can successfully contain Robert Lewandowski.

FC Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.   -  AP

Villarreal knows its chances of advancing past Bayern Munich in the Champions League will depend largely on whether it can successfully contain Robert Lewandowski.

And hopes are high considering the team’s recent success against another top striker. The Spanish club is coming off a round-of-16 triumph over Juventus, when its defense got the best of Dusan Vlahovic.

Villarreal defender Pau Torres said the squad has enough experience facing some of the world’s top forwards and will be ready for the task at hand beginning in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

“These are the challenges we enjoy,” Torres told Marca TV. “Each striker has his style and we will make sure we know how to make things difficult for Lewandowski. He is a very complete striker. Sometimes it seems like he’s not doing much, but in the end he’s always a threat.”

Torres faced Lewandowski with Spain in last year’s European Championship, a 1-1 draw in the group stage when Lewandowski scored a second-half equalizer.

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Vlahovic also scored against Villarreal in the first leg of the round of 16, getting on the board in the first minute at La Cerámica Stadium, but neither the Serbian striker nor teammate Álvaro Morata could find the net in the second leg in Italy — a surprising 3-0 win by the modest Spanish club.

Villarreal also faced Cristiano Ronaldo twice in the group stage, with the forward scoring a goal in each of Manchester United’s victories.

Lewandowski is the Champions League’s leading scorer with 12 goals from eight matches. He has more than 50 goals this season for his club and his country and is ranked third in the all-time list of Champions League scorers, behind Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He has scored seven goals in his last five games in all competitions.

“He has very good numbers and any team would like to have these types of players,” said Torres, who scored one of the goals in Villarreal's win at Juventus in the second leg. “We will have to do a good job to contain him and keep him from scoring against us.”

Villarreal midfielder Manu Trigueros said coach Unai Emery — who is in the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time — will have the team prepared to face the powerful Bayern squad.

“He pays attention to detail. He dissects everything so players have everything as easy as possible or as many solutions as they need before a match,” Trigueros said. “We have many discussions with him and he’s very talkative, and he gets through to the players. Everyone around him spends hours watching videos so the players have everything they need.”

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Villarreal is coming off its second consecutive Spanish league defeat — a 2-0 loss at second-to-last-place Levante, when Emery didn't rest many of his regular starters.

Villarreal, the defending Europa League winner, is back in the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. It’s best campaign was a semifinal appearance in 2006, when it lost to Arsenal.

“Villarreal has a coach with a lot of experience at winning on the international stage,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann said. “The team is very experienced and we will need to figure out how to break them down."

Bayern has made it to the last eight 10 times in the last 11 seasons. The team is playing in the quarterfinals for a record 20th time.

The second leg is next week in Munich.

The winner of the series will play either Benfica or Liverpool in the semifinals.

Bayern's Davies ready to start against Villarreal-Nagelsmann

Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies could start against Villarreal in Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal first leg after recovering from a heart problem that had sidelined him for over three months, coach Julian Nagelsmann said on Tuesday.

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The Canadian has been sidelined since early January after being diagnosed with a minor heart condition following a COVID-19 infection. He last played in a competitive game on December 17, 2021 but could be in the starting line-up on Wednesday.

"He will be coming with us," Nagelsmann told a virtual news conference prior to the team's departure for Spain.

"His last test was very positive. So he will travel with us and he could start tomorrow but we will have to see today and tomorrow. But it is possible."

The Bavarians, top of the Bundesliga and unbeaten in the Champions League this season, is the clear favourites going into the tie with the Spanish side suffering a shock 2-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Levante in LaLiga to remain in seventh place.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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