Big Midweek: Bayern v Lazio, Bardghji in the spotlight, Villa and Brighton face Euro giants

Ian Watson
Thomas Tuchel, Roony Bardghji, Roberto De Zerbi, and Ollie Watkins.
It's a huge midweek for Thomas Tuchel, Roony Bardghji, Roberto De Zerbi and Aston Villa.

Can Bayern Munich get behind Thomas Tuchel for long enough to save their season against Lazio in the Champions League? Eyes are on Roony Bardghji at City, while Villa and Brighton both go to European giants…


Game to watch: Bayern Munich v Lazio
Sh*t or bust for Thomas Tuchel?

The Champions League certainly appears the last chance for the Bayern coach to repair his reputation. Tuchel will be off in the summer, we know that already, but failing to overturn a one-goal deficit from the first leg in Roma could prompt the Bayern hierarchy to put everyone out of their misery three months early.

And everyone at Bayern does seem thoroughly miserable. Not surprising, perhaps, given they are now 10 points off Bayer Leverkusen at the top of the Bundesliga after losing more ground at the weekend. Tuchel pinned their latest failure – conceding late to draw 2-2 at Freiburg – on the players’ lack of discipline. “We did things we’ve never trained, that we’ve never even spoken about. From the beginning, we played like it was the 85th minute and we were a goal down.”

Now they actually are a goal down from the beginning. The only thing that might spare Tuchel on Tuesday is the players’ personal pride because they don’t appear motivated to rally for the manager. And, in the medium term, the lack of an adequate replacement if Lazio finish the job at the Allianz Arena.


Player to watch: Roony Bardghji
Manchester City would have to colossally screw up for Copenhagen to overturn a 3-1 defeat from the first leg in Denmark. Passage into the quarter-finals should be a straightforward and serene process for the Champions League holders.

If Copenhagen are to cause any problems, Bardghji would likely be behind them. As he was when the Danes beat Manchester United at the Parken in the group stage.

It has been a weird time for Bardghji. The ‘Swedish Messi’ has caught eyes across the continent and the vultures are circling Copenhagen. But they won’t have seen much of the Kuwait-born forward in recent weeks.

Bardghji has been banished to the bench because, according to Fabrizio Romano, the 18-year-old won’t sign a new deal beyond December 2025. Copenhagen want to protect their asset and Bardghji’s refusal to play ball has seen him sit out the first leg and their first two Superliga matches of 2024. He finally saw some action at the weekend when sent from the bench at half-time while Copenhagen trailed 2-0 to Midtjylland.

The whole affair has prompted a backlash in the Danish media against Romano and his story-sourcing methods. Amid all the distraction, Bardghji will be desperate to catch the eye against City, with Barcelona, United, PSG and Spurs among the clubs watching.


Team to watch: Brighton
The Europa League round-of-16 draw offered up some interesting clashes, with Liverpool’s Quadruple quest taking them to Sparta Prague, while West Ham face a Freiburg side fresh from p*ssing on Bayern’s chips. The tie of the round, though, from an English perspective is Brighton’s meeting with Roma.

The Seagulls have had to pinch themselves on almost every European journey so far this season and their adventure takes another thrilling turn towards the Italian capital on Thursday to face a side resurgent under Daniele De Rossi having won seven out of nine, losing only to runaway leaders Inter since Jose Mourinho was skewered.

Exciting, though, it is for Brighton, Roberto De Zerbi has to ensure his side’s ropey form on the road in the Premier League doesn’t cross the continent with them.

That was evident for all at Craven Cottage on Saturday where once again Brighton gave themselves a mountain to climb after a sloppy start. They have bailed themselves out before, including against Marseille in the group stage, but Roma are surely too streetwise to allow the Seagulls a route back in to the tie if they give goals away as sloppily as they did at Fulham.

De Zerbi has to find the way to firm Brighton up, especially early on in Rome, if only to keep the tie alive for the return leg.


Manager to watch: Unai Emery
Undoubtedly the tie of the last 16 in the Europa Conference League sees Villa go to Ajax in a clash for which the Villans must be considered favourites.

Ajax’s problems have been well documented. The Dutch giants shamed themselves by slumping to the bottom of Eredivisie earlier in the season but a revival of sorts under new coach John van ‘t Schip saw them recover a modicum of respect by climbing to fifth.

Inconsistency, though, has crept back in and they have won only two of their last seven matches, including the play-off for the knockout round against Bodo/Glimt. And then they needed extra-time.

Villa’s season could hardly contrast more greatly. Emery’s side are going great guns, remaining in the top four after recovering from a New Year wobble to win their last three in the Premier League.

Villa’s domestic exploits present a dilemma for Emery. The manager has watched the queue outside his treatment room continue to grow with Jacob Ramsey his latest concern. How does Emery balance his and Villa’s Conference League ambitions with the prospect of a Champions League place, especially with a massive game against fifth-placed Tottenham at the weekend?

Head coach Enzo Maresca in the Leicester City dugout.

EFL game to watch: Sunderland v Leicester
If Leicester don’t get their act together in time for the trip to Wearside, the Foxes could be joined by Ipswich level on points at the Championship summit.

The leaders are coming off the back of three straight Championship defeats which leaves them feeling the breath of the chasing pack on their necks.

Sunderland had ambitions of being among those chasers, but they have slumped harder than Leicester. The Black Cats have lost seven of their last 10 including their last four while the supporters and Michael Beale squabbled among themselves. Beale has gone – not a minute too soon – but his interim replacement Mike Dodds hasn’t sparked the immediate improvement their play-off hopes needed.

Elsewhere in the promotion race, Ipswich, Leeds and Southampton are all at home, to Bristol City, Stoke and Preston respectively.