Allianz Arena, Munich
Tuesday, April 23; 19:45 Hrs GMT
The world will come to a standstill tonight as Bayern Munich host FC Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash at the Allianz arena. The league leaders (and crowned champions) of Germany will face the league leaders of Spain – It can’t get bigger than this.
It isn’t regular for this Barcelona side to enter a match as an under-dog, but that is exactly what will happen as they face Bayern Munich at the Allianz arena. The German giants have been unstoppable this season. They have already won the Bundesliga and are breaking records nearly every week. The Bavarian giants have lost only three games this season – two in the Champions League (against Bate Borisov and Arsenal) and one in the league – away to Leverkusen. In fact the loss against Arsenal has been their only defeat at home this season, although it was mostly down to the fact that Bayern were too complacent against the Gunners.
Bayern Munich comes into the match on the back of a fine performance against Hannover. Worryingly for Barcelona, Bayern Munich has scored 16 goals in their last three matches, but it is unfair to highlight only their attacking prowess, Jupp Heynckes’ side has one of the best defensive records in Europe currently. They have conceded only 14 goals in the league so far and also managed to get two clean sheets against Juventus in Quarter-finals of the Champions League. It was convincing display for Bayern against the Italian champions in the last round as they won 4-0 on aggregate. But Barcelona is undoubtedly their biggest test this season and Jupp Heynckes will want his team to take a substantial lead to Spain in the second leg.
Barcelona have been brilliant in their domestic league, but for many they haven’t been convincing enough in Europe this season, although that is mostly down to the high expectations that people have from the Spanish giants. Barca have a 13 point lead over Real Madrid in the La Liga and should win it comfortably. Barca are currently unbeaten in their last nine matches, and interestingly, for a team whose defensive weakness has been well documented, they have conceded just one goal in their last four games.
But Barcelona has had some close calls in their last two rounds of the Champions League. Although they decimated Milan in the second leg, they were given a scare in the first leg of that fixture. Similarly against PSG, they were close to being knocked out, that is until a certain player by the name of Messi came on the pitch and changed everything. Luckily, Barcelona will have the Argentine back in the starting line-up in this match and that is bound to make a difference.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Bayern Munich will miss some key players due to injury and suspension in this match. Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber will be out of this fixture due to injuries, while Mandzukic will miss out due to suspension after picking up two yellow in the match against Juventus.
Bayern’s back four should be pretty much the same except for Boateng replacing DVB. 35 year old DVB has been on brilliant form this season and his strong showings against Arsenal and Juventus in the previous two rounds should justify his selection against Barcelona. He was able to contain the treats of Matri, Vucinic and Giroud quite well but Bayern coach Jupp will be vary of his lack of pace against fast moving attackers. Though Bayern beat Wolfsburg comfortably last tuesday, the pace of Mame Diouf and Ya Konan were more than a handful for the 35 year old center back. Barcelona’s attack is largely depended on quick passes and fast movement of their midfielders. With Boateng at the back, Bayern can have better chances of intercepting Barcelona’s movements.
The trio of Robben , Muller and Ribery should start for the Bavarians. The guile and vision of Kroos will be missed but Muller will be an able replacement for the midfielder. ‘Robbery’ should have a field day against the attacked minded full backs of Barcelona. Both alves and alba love to gallop up the pitch in support of the attack but with robbery on the flanks they will need to curb their instincts to a large extent. Expect Shaqiri to make an appearance in second period in place of Robben to keep up the pressure on Barcelona. the young swiss has been on excellent form off late and is quite a threat when playing on the flanks or through the middle.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Neuer(GK); Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Martinez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Muller, Ribery; Gomez
The big news for Barcelona is that Lionel Messi will be back in the starting line-up after missing out in the last three league matches. The Argentine’s last appearance was in the 1-1 draw against PSG in the Champions League and his return will provide huge boost to the Spanish side.
But there are big worries for Tito Vilanova ahead of this fixture, especially with respect to his defense. Both Puyol and Mascherano are out with injuries, which means youngster Bartra will feature alongside Pique in the center of the back four. Vilanova rested Xavi and Busquets in the match against Levante in the weekend and the due are set to return for this match replacing Song and Alcantara. Tello and Fabregas, will also drop back to the bench and should be replaced by Villa and Messi.
Barcelona will need to be at their best to beat Bayern and the most important thing is they need to bring their famous pressing game to the forefront. If they allow Bastian Schweinsteiger to dictate the game from the midfield then it will be a long night for the Spanish club. But Vilanova’s biggest worry will be how the Barcelona back four will handle the likes of Gomez, Ribery and Robben.
Dani Alves will have to curb down his attacking instincts on the right as he will have to deal with Ribery and Lahm down that wing, which means Iniesta and Pedro will have to help the Brazilian. Busquets will once again be crucial for Barcelona as he will look to contain Muller through the middle.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdez(GK); Alves, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi; Villa, Messi, Pedro;
- It’s been eleven years since Barça were beaten on German soil, when they lost to Bayer Leverkusen in the 2001/02 group stages.
- Barcelona have only won two of their last eight away games in all competitions (W2, D4, L2).
- Bayern Munich have not kept a clean sheet in their last 12 Champions League games at home against Spanish opposition.
- Barcelona have only won one of their six competitive encounters with Bayern Munich.
- Bayern have committed more fouls (137) and received more yellow cards (24) than any other team in this year’s tournament.
Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
What can be said about this man that has been said already? While it is naive to call Barcelona a one man team, but the importance of Messi in this side cann’t be overstated. Barcelona are a good side without him, but they are a great side with him. The Argentine international’s influencing capabilities was at the forefront in the match against PSG, when he came off the bench to inspire his side to a victory, which looked unlikely in the first half. He will once again be crucial against Bayern and could prove to be the difference once again.
Bayern Munich 2 – 1 Barcelona
Bayern Munich at home have been nearly unbeatable this season and this shouldn’t change tonight. They will score against a weak Barcelona defense, but Messi’s magic should pull one back for the Spanish side. It should be a electrifying game with two great footballing side with Bayern sneaking in with a victory.
Blast From The Past