Less sovereign, Bayern Munich entered the Champions League round of 16 against Lazio Rome (9:00 p.m.) with the stated ambition to retain their title. A feat accomplished only by Real Madrid in the modern version of the event.

The other match of the evening, Atlético Madrid-Chelsea, is played in Bucharest, Romania, due to health restrictions in Spain that prevent a British club from coming. Budapest, Hungary, has also emerged as a fallback base for German clubs Leipzig and Mönchengladbach to host Liverpool (0-2 last week) and Manchester City (Wednesday 9:00 p.m.) respectively.

Bayern, unbeaten for 17 games in the premier competition (16 wins, one draw), arrives in Rome in the shoes of the favorite. But Robert Lewandowski’s “Rekordmeister” is currently reduced by injuries (Tolisso, Gnabry, Douglas-Costa), Covid-19 (Pavard, Müller), and the fatigue of a workforce over-used for months.

“We left a lot of juice in the trips lately”, admitted Kingsley Coman on Monday, in an allusion in particular to the World Cup in mid-February, won by Bayern but which forced the team to a long and difficult trip to Qatar .

– In the footsteps of Zidane –

“We have to admit that in recent weeks, the load on the boys has been enormous, and we are missing important players,” also admits coach Hansi Flick. “But it’s the Champions League, these are special matches, and we have a special motivation for these matches.”

Bayern’s dream? Walking in the footsteps of Zinédine Zidane, the only team of the modern era (since 1993) to have not only retained its title, but also to have won it three times in a row (2016-2017-2018).

For the old wise men of German football Ottmar Hitzfeld and Jupp Heynckes (both winners of the competition as coaches with Bayern in 2001 and 2013), quoted by the magazine Kicker, this Bayern has the means.

“The team is not old, the environment is good,” says Hitzfeld. “All the more so, adds Heynckes, that other great Europeans are currently faltering”, including Paris SG, Juventus, Barcelona or even Liverpool, struggling in their championships

Bayern itself, although still leading the Bundesliga, has just conceded in less than a week a draw against the poorly classified Bielefeld (3-3) and a defeat in Frankfurt (2-1), after disastrous first periods .

“I would like my team to be there from the start,” Flick asked on Monday. “We have a clear idea of the football we want to play and I would like to see it on the pitch right away.”

– “Nothing is impossible” –

Those who dissect the “weaknesses” of the Bavarian giant also observe that the workforce, in its depth, is less rich than last year.

Thiago, who left for Liverpool, has not been replaced by a player of his caliber. Philippe Coutinho (eleven goals, six assists) and Ivan Perisic (eight goals, ten assists), who were luxury substitutes, have also left the club.

In recent weeks, with several executives in the infirmary, this decline in the quality of the bench is visible. The rookies Bouna Sarr, Eric Choupo-Moting or Marc Roca did not forget the starters.

Even an undisputed talent like Leroy Sané, who arrived from Manchester City with the status of a star, struggles to fit into the mold of Bayern, which demands absolute physical and mental commitment from its players.

Winning the Champions League twice in a row is “exceptional and very difficult”, concedes Thomas Müller, “but nothing is impossible”. A beautiful incantation for his teammates, since Müller, affected by the Covid-19, will be absent in Rome.