UEFA Champions League continues as the Spanish league leaders host arch rivals from Barcelona. Bayern welcome Man United in another highly anticipated clash.
Injury woes at Madrid
Atletico Madrid has never won a Champions league in their footballing history. Their best performance is that of runner up back in 1974. However this season everything is going well and the momentum might just be on their side. They lead the La Liga over their rivals Madrid and Barcelona and are the favorites in the upcoming draw. Atletico have always had a reputation of bringing to light some of the best strikers in the work from Forlan, Torres (yes he is terrible now) to the likes of the recently departed Falcao. This season however major part of their success is attributed to Diego Costa. Having scored 33 goals in all competitions, he has raked up a lot of interest from teams all over the Europe. Nevertheless in the Previous game Costa picked up an injury and Atletico will be without their star striker. Add to this the loss of Arda Turan due to a groin injury sure makes it difficult for the club to qualify. But Barcelona too are injury stricken defensively as they play without Valdez, Pique and Puyol and will have to rely on youngster Bartra and keeper Pinto to do the job.
United of 1999 or Bayern of Today
Manchester United back in 1999 scored two last minute goals to defeat Bayern Munich to pick up the title. However today they are outside the periphery of Champion’s League football sitting in 7th place and it looks like they will be missing out on the action next year. However there is a way out, if they were to win this year’s Champion’s League, as victors they would knock out the team finishing fourth like Chelsea did two seasons ago. This would be possible only if they can topple the German Juggernaut at home, something their English rivals have managed to do last season. A victory for Moyes will shut all the critics up who have shoveled hate and spewed lewd comments at him over his pedestrian management performance. United have the highest number of clean sheets in the competition (5 out of 9) and have done surprisingly well in Europe. But can they repeat the feat they achieved in 1999?
Bayern Munich is a team that sends shivers down the spine of every other manager. An injury only makes them stronger as a younger, faster and aptly skilled player takes the predecessor’s place. With such depth in the squad it looks almost unfair for a team to be so strong. However, they have been having a run that seems too good to be true. Everyone waits for their form like a bloated bubble to burst anytime soon. Last week they suffered a one nil defeat in the hands of FC Augsburg some of whose players are unknown outside the Bundesliga. Is this a sign of cracks showing up on Bayer’s walls? Or were they just unlucky and will bounce back stronger now against United.
Lionel Messi plays catch up
Messi has had somewhat of a quieter season this time having been injured for the initial periods. However he is now back and is ready to outdo his arch nemesis Cristiano. Ronaldo has now equaled Messi’s record of 14 goals in a Champions League tournament. And with their thumping of Dortmund it seems he will only go on to better that record by a big margin. Messi has two records at stake now. One, the maximum number of goals in a season and the other the all-time highest goals held by another Madrid player Raul (71 goals) which is also under thread by Ronaldo. Messi has scored 8 this season in the Champions League 2 behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who is now injured and might be out of the race) and 6 behind Ronaldo. Can he catch up this season or will he lose out on both records to his rival?
The Rooney Kagawa connection and Schweinsteiger’s absence
Fans have seen in the last few games a stark difference in the Red Devil’s performance. They have looked a lot more threatening while going forward and have somehow managed to concede very few all credit to their keeper David De Gea. One of the biggest changes we can see if Shinji Kagawa’s involvement. Off late Moyes has finally answered all United fan’s prayers. He has begun playing the Japanese international and Kagawa has combined well with Rooney and Mata and produced some of the most beautiful moves Old Trafford has witnessed in the recent past. However Mata being cup-tied is ineligible to play and so United will have to make do with out their record signing. Rooney on the other hand seems doubtful as he has pick up a toe injury. Nevertheless having been included in the squad suggests that he might risk it and play with pain killers to grab a semifinal spot.
After all the finger pointing and criticism of simulation thrown at Rooney the fact still stands that the German holding mid who scored their important away goal will miss out on the home game. Bastian has been a crucial part of the team and has added fluidity and depth to the Bayern game. With both him and Javi Martinez missing out it would be interesting to see who will be thrown into action.
Away Goal Advantages
Both Fixtures this week have one thing in common; i.e. both home teams have an away goal in hand. Atletico Madrid has an advantage of having scored at the Camp Nou. Even if they hold Barcelona to a nil all draw they will proceed to the next round. However Simone’s men wouldn’t take a page from Mourinho’s book any heavy transport vehicles. With Barcelona’s lethal attacking force, the poorer Madrid side knows very well Messi and Co will come at them with everything including the kitchen sink. And so it is expected that Atletico will do very much the same and we can expect an end to end high intensity game filled with many chances if not goals.
Pep Guardiola’s men have a task at hand which is no cake walk. The German side’s record against English teams has not been something to talk about. They have suffered a defeat last season in the hand of Arsenal but went through only because of their away goals in London. This year too they only managed a draw against Arsenal at home. Manchester United arrives at Munich brimming with confidence as they have had an astonishingly good run in the competition contrary to their league form. Bayern will have to make sure they win if they wish to defend their Champions League title successfully as in football everyone knows a one goal advantage isn’t secure enough.