What: Champions League Semi-final (First leg)
Who: Bayern Munich vs Barcelona
When: Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Treble On For Relentless Bayern Munich
Having wrapped up the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich are now into the final of the German Cup after crushing Wolfsburg 6-1 in the semi-finals. The German giants can make history with four more top class performances this season and have a realistic chance of the treble. They have come extraordinarily close to such an achievement twice previously – last season and in 1999, but this year they have gone onto a completely new level.
Bayern Munich’s form in the knockout stage of the Champions League has been formidable – they have won home and away to Juventus, and 3-1 against Arsenal in London. Their 2-0 home defeat to the Londoners can be excused on the basis that they were already practically through and there should be no danger of complacency again when they face the team they are looking to usurp as Europe’s finest next week.
This season the Bavarians have dominated German football more comprehensively than any side in history, but the meeting with Barcelona offers the best measure of their current class. For much of the season observers have wondered whether they are on a par with or even better than the Catalans. Soon arguments on both sides will be settled.
Divine Inspiration Driving Barcelona
Destiny seems to be with Barcelona this season. They have won the Champions League in three of the last six seasons and are on course for a return to Wembley. That was where they lifted their first European Cup under Johan Cruyff in 1992 and where they won their last too, in 2011. And the way the Catalans have got to the last four has indicated that someone is smiling down on them from above. After losing 2-0 in Milan, they stormed to a 4-0 home win, before Lionel Messi recovered in improbably quick time to appear as a substitute in the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals and help them reach the last four. Or rather than divine intervention, it may just be down to Messi.
Barcelona are now in the last four of the Champions League for the sixth year in a row – a record. They remain the best team in Europe in recent years, but they have beaten Bayern Munich in just one of six previous meetings. The Catalans have also won just one of their last five in this season’s competition.
They remain unbeatable at possession football, their passing statistics still as great as ever, but that stat betrays a newfound fragility about Barcelona. The Blaugrana no longer possess the same cutting edge, the pace and movement which allied to their passing game has made them so entertaining and difficult to beat. Of course they still have arguably the world’s best players in Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, but it is the overall team dynamic which has failed them at times this season. Can they rediscover their old mojo in time for Bayern Munich?
Bayern Munich 4-0 Nurnberg (13/04; Bundesliga)
Bayern Munich 6-1 Wolfsburg (16/04; German Cup)
Hannover 1-6 Bayern Munich (20/04; Bundesliga)
Barcelona 1-1 PSG (10/04; Champions League)
Real Zaragoza 0-3 Barcelona (14/04; La Liga)
Barcelona 1-0 Levante (20/04; La Liga)
Bayern Munich: Toni Kroos; Holger Badstuber; Bastian Schweinsteiger; Mario Mandzukic
Barcelona: Carles Puyol (doubt); Lionel Messi (doubt); Adriano; Javier Mascherano
Players to watch
Bayern Munich – Franck Ribery: The Frenchman is the only member of the Bayern Munich team who featured last time these two teams met in 2009. Back then he netted the winner in an ultimately futile 1-0 home leg victory. The Frenchman has become increasingly consistent of late and his dribbling ability can cause no end of problems for the Barcelona backline. With Mario Mandzukic suspended for the first leg, more responsibility will lie with the Frenchman to help Bayern Munich find the breakthrough.
Barcelona – Lionel Messi: For all that is said about Barcelona’s collective play they retain an individual of almost unique qualities. The Argentine is a player who has completely devalued the very meaning of superlatives, so overused have they become when describing his performances. All that needs to be said is whether he is playing or not – and that ultimately was what turned defeat to victory last time out against PSG, his presence alone simply lifting his team-mates to find a crucial and decisive equalising goal. Messi’s capacity for producing breathtaking and decisive interventions at the most important moments will surely be a feature of this clash.
This is one of the most mouth-watering games in years, arguably since the El Clasico semi-final of 2011. These two sides have been the best in Europe over the last five seasons and this tie could mark a passing of the baton from Europe’s current masters to the next dominant force.
Barcelona’s performances in the Champions League this season have not been quite at the heights of previous campaigns. Whilst they still rack up far more passes than anyone else, they have had the fewest shots of any of the semi-finalists this season, underlining a key flaw. In the quarter-finals, the Catalans met a PSG team who defended bravely and attacked with gusto as well, and if the French side had some extra quality, winning the tie could have been possible. Last weekend’s league games for these sides summed up much about them. Barcelona had 80% of the ball against Levante, but won 1-0. An under-strength Bayern Munich won 6-1 against Hannover, a scoreline which is becoming quite a regular one for the Bavarians. With that in mind, Bayern Munich should have more than enough to beat the Catalans.
That said, Barcelona should monopolise possession, but the question is what they do with it. They will of course try to pass the ball through the centre as usual and could pick holes in Bayern Munich’s defence if they are their very best. That could depend on whether David Villa starts – he offers them direct running out wide, which opens up space for Iniesta and Xavi to exploit. But Bayern Munich are nothing if not ruthlessly efficient and Barcelona’s often suspect defending may well let them down against this Bavarian machine. Bayern Munich 3-1 Barcelona.
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