Ahead of Lazio’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first-leg fixture against reigning champions Bayern Munich, The Laziali’s Jerry Mancini spoke to Michael Morton, who runs FC Bayern Fan Club Miami München, to get some insight on the German side.

You currently run the Miami Munchen Bayern Club. What made you start this club and how did you become a fan of Bayern Munich?

Our current VP Stephen Monte and my predecessor, Patrick Mesa, started the club in 2015 with nine of their friends in order to compete in FC Bayern’s soccer tournament aboard a cruise ship during that summer. They worked together to lay the foundation of the very club of which I am now chairman since 2017.

I have been an FC Bayern fan since I was about 8 years old thanks to my dad, who learned of the club during his time in the US Army in the late 60s and early 70s. Through him I learned about the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, and Uli Hoeneß. Around 1993 he took both my brother and me to Bavaria for the first time where we could really experience the footballing culture of Munich and I have been a fan since!

It has been an unusual season for Bayern Munich. For many people, it has been mentioned that they are playing below their standards. How would you assess Bayern’s season this year? 

Speaking for myself and a few of my fellow Miami München members, our season has been good, but not great. It’s hard to be upset with winning the sixth trophy in less than a year, seeing us sit at the top of the table yet again, having an incredible offense, and being in the UCL’s round of 16; however, we have one of the worst defenses in Europe, were eliminated from the DFB Pokal at the hands of a 2. Bundesliga side, and struggle putting together 90 minutes of football. Covid-19 absences and injuries further add to our struggles.

Key notable players are set to miss Tuesday’s match vs Lazio in the Champions League, such as Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry and Benjamin Pavard. How much does this hurt Bayern?

The loss of several first-team players will definitely make things harder for Bayern, but the loss of Müller in particular is perhaps the most significant. He has had one of his best seasons ever and his partnership with Robert Lewandowski is simply incredible. He also is indefatigable, causing a ruckus on the pitch and being a pain to any defender, seemingly popping up out of nowhere. He’s also an inspiration for the players, pushing them on and on. [Serge] Gnabry and [Benjamin] Pavard will both be missed, especially for depth, but neither will be as missed as Thomas.

Who are some players that Lazio should be concerned about or focused on heading into their fixture?

Lazio will need to keep an eye out for Lewandowski. Nearly all Bayern players have tallied a goal this season, but it’s Lewandowski who poses the obvious threat to Lazio. [Joshua] Kimmich’s ball distribution may also cause them some concerns, depending on if he plays in midfield.

What are Bayern’s biggest strengths and weaknesses that Lazio should look out for?

Strengths: Speed on the flanks with [Alphonso] Davies, [Kingsley] Coman, and [Leroy] Sané; Lewandowski’s finishing; the ability to keep the ball away from the opponent; really control the match once they take the lead.

Weaknesses: Slow starts to matches and counterattacks. Today against [Eintracht] Frankfurt and last week against [Arminia] Bielefeld demonstrated how Bayern can quickly be opened up on a counter; exploit space behind the fullbacks and have a pacey forward run at our center backs for success.

Earlier this year Borussia Monchengladbach used the 3-5-2 and beat Bayern Munich 3-2. Does Lazio using the 3-5-2 formation concern you and does Lazio have an advantage using this formation?

Several teams have used a 3-5-2/5-3-2/4-1-4-1 (which quickly becomes a 5-4-1) to frustrate Bayern for several years now, so the formation won’t surprise Bayern, but two strikers working to attack two CBs, especially one with such skill as Ciro Immobile, could create big problems for our aforementioned defensive struggles. Based on recent performances, I do give this as a Lazio advantage.

What concerns you the most about Lazio heading into this fixture?

Immobile, Luis Alberto, Felipe Caicedo, and a good counterattack. Play compact and disciplined football, get the ball to your forwards in a scoring position on a misplaced Bayern pass, and it could spell trouble for our Reds.

Lastly, how do you see this fixture playing out?

Whew, predictions. My superstitious side really does not like to do this, so I’ll knock on wood the second after I send this e-mail! I see Bayern having enough skill and experience to take advantage of Lazio’s own personnel matters, especially in defense and goal. First leg: Lazio 2-3 FC Bayern; Second leg: FC Bayern 3-1 Lazio (FC Bayern 6 – 3 Lazio, aggregate).