It feels quite weird, a bit of a break in the norm, almost as surprising as people expressing their surprise with Jose Mourinho setting up teams to be cautious away at top sides, that only one German side remain in the UEFA Champions League at the first knockout round.
As it was back in the 2008-09 campaign, Bayern Munich are the only flag-bearers from the land of the World champions in the last 16 stage, after an anomaly of a season.
Last season’s Bundesliga surprise package Hoffenheim were dumped out of the competition at the play-off stage back in August, while fellow new boys Leipzig had to head for the Europa League after finishing third in Group G, but none is more disappointing than Borussia Dortmund.
Over the six games Die Schwarzgelben played in Group H, they managed two points (both rather lucky draws against APOEL Nicosia), which incredibly was enough for Europa League football. Four defeats in four games to Tottenham and Real Madrid, conceding 11 goals in the process, were the headlines in such a torrid campaign, and you could argue that it was poor results in Europe that made domestic form nosedive and led to the dismissal of Peter Bosz.
The signs were there for the German clubs last season, as no side managed to get to the semi-final of competition, first time that has also happened since 2009; in fact it was the first time that no German side appeared in the last four of any European club competition since 2005, a sign of a German decline? Perhaps so, but in Bayern Munich this term they have one of the strongest sides in the continent, a star-studded team rejuvenated by the return of a former manager (in Jupp Heynckes) isn’t the worst side to have fly your nation’s flag.
Die Roten are on something of a redemption mission of their own, after last year’s controversial and premature exit at the hands of Real Madrid in the last eight last season, and as they welcome Besiktas in Tuesday’s first leg, they will have their sights set on going far in the tournament. Not that Heynckes is naïve, though; Bayern might have eyes firmly fixed on the latter stages of the competition- if not the prize itself- but they’ll do well to be wary of the experienced Turks who won their group with ease, and who are likely to approach this tie as something of a free hit.
The Bavarians are likely to have the hopes and the wind of an entire nation on their backs. Whether that weighs them down, or spurs them on, remains to be seen.
Photo credit: Goal