Barcelona will be fighting for their Champions League survival when they lock horns with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
Xavi Hernandez is bracing himself for his biggest test yet as his Barcelona side takes on Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena this midweek. The visitors are in a precarious position heading into this game, with third-placed Benfica breathing down their neck.
Barcelona are currently in the second position in the Group E standings, two points ahead of the Portuguese giants. But with an inferior head to head record against Benfica, the five-time Champions League winners are running the risk of bowing out of the group stages for the first time in 20 years.
Nevertheless, Xavi’s men have fate in their own hands, as a victory against Bayern could help them automatically secure a place in the knockout rounds.
But after conceding 11 goals in the last two matches against the Bavarians, the confidence is not exactly high at the Catalan camp. Even less so after a disappointing defeat to Real Betis at the weekend that extended the gap between them and league leaders Real Madrid to 16 points.
It is a completely different situation for Bayern, whose controversial win over Borussia Dortmund on the weekend helped them extend their lead to four points at the top of the Bundesliga table. They are heading into this contest with a hundred percent win record in the Champions League this season, having won all five of their matches so far, including a 3-0 triumph over Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
Despite the home advantage in this leg, however, Bayern are unlikely to have much support at the Allianz Arena. In light of the growing COVID-19 infections in the state of Bavaria, the authority has once again mandated the Geisterspiel policy, which means there won’t be any fans allowed in the stadium.
That won’t make things any easier for Barcelona, who have struggled to find their bearings among Europe’s finest. And with Benfica facing a relatively easy test against Dynamo Kyiv, anything other than a miracle could relegate the visitors to the UEFA Europa League for the campaign’s second half.
Team News & Tactics
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) December 7, 2021
Joshua Kimmich is unlikely to return in time for the Barcelona clash, which is a major blow for Julian Nagelsmann. In addition to the German international, the Bayern Munich tactician is also missing out on Marcel Sabitzer, Bouna Sarr and Josip Stanisic through injury.
However, we are not expecting too many changes from the team that featured against Borussia Dortmund on the weekend, as Bayern Munich look to go all out and preserve their winning record in the competition.
From a tactical perspective, Nagelsmann is set to retain his 4-2-3-1 setup, but the German’s biggest strength is that formation rarely matters in his progressive positional setup that instructs players to position themselves according to the situation. That said, the focus will be on using a switch of plays to stretch the Barcelona backline, especially with wide players like Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman camping themselves in the opposition half.
The only change in attack, though, could see Jamal Musiala replacing Leroy Sane. The youngster likes to operate centrally, which means he and Thomas Muller are expected to work in tight areas, just in behind the main striker Robert Lewandowski.
In midfield, Kimmich’s absence means the onus will be on Leon Goretzka to marshall the Bayern setup alongside Corentin Tolisso. It won’t be surprising to see Musiala drop in to offer the numerical superiority in the second line of press, with Muller shifting out to the right to form a situational 4-3-3.
As for the defensive department, Nagelsmann is unlikely to risk Lucas Hernandez who picked up a slight knock against Borussia Dortmund. Niklas Sule is likely to replace the Frenchman at the heart of the Bayern defence, accompanied by Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano and Davies in the Bayern back-four.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Pavard, Sule, Upamecano, Davies; Goretzka, Tolisso; Musiala, Muller, Coman; Lewandowski
Barcelona are missing a few players of their own, including their young phenom Ansu Fati and 2021 Golden Boy Pedri. Sergio Aguero, Sergi Roberto and Martin Braithwaite are among the other players ruled out for this midweek encounter.
It remains to be seen how Xavi tries to replace the key players, especially Fati and Pedri. The likely solution is to deploy a 3-4-2-1, as it allows additional balance in defence and, more importantly, a numerical superiority in the second line of press. It also offers more security in possession, which will be useful against Bayern this midweek.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 6, 2021
Defensively, Ronald Araujo, Gerard Pique and Eric Garcia are likely to retain their partnership in the three-man backline. They can expect additional assistance from Jordi Alba at left wing-back. As for the opposite flank, Xavi has to choose between Ousmane Dembele and Sergino Dest.
The former could be preferred as he can use his pace and trickery on the flanks to make life difficult for the opposition defenders. Dembele and Alba providing the width in the attack essentially means the two advanced midfielders in Nico and Gavi will have the freedom to operate in the central areas of the pitch, just behind Memphis Depay.
It won’t be surprising to see the two attackers dropping deep to aid Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong in midfield, adding more numbers in Barcelona’s second line of press. Riqui Puig is another option, in case Xavi prefers even more control in possession, whereas Abde Ezzalzouli and Yusuf Demir are more explosive alternatives for Nico or Gavi.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): ter Stegen; Araujo, Pique, Garcia; Dembele, Busquets, de Jong, Alba; Nico, Gavi; Depay
- Bayern Munich have won each of their last three meetings with Barcelona (3-2 in May 2015, 8-2 in August 2020 and 3-0 in September 2021), which is already the longest run of victories by a team against Barcelona in the history of the European competitions.
- Barcelona have only lost two of their last 13 away games against German opponents in the UEFA Champions League and are unbeaten in their most recent three. Their two defeats in this run both came against Bayern Munich, however, in 2012/13 and 2014/15.
- Bayern Munich are unbeaten in five games when hosting Barcelona in European competition, winning the recent two – 4-0 in April 2013 and 3-2 in May 2015. Both of those games came in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
- Barcelona have taken just seven points from their five games in the Champions League this season. If they fail to avoid defeat here, it will be their second-worst performance in terms of points in a single group stage in the competition, behind only 1997/98 (5).
- This season, Bayern Munich has averaged five goals per home game in the UEFA Champions League (5-0 vs Dynamo, 5-2 vs Benfica), the most of any team. They have scored at least 2+ goals in each of their last 11 home games in the UCL as well, which is the longest such run by a team in the competition since Bayern themselves between September 2010 and December 2012 (13).
Player to Watch
After narrowly missing out on the Ballon d’Or at the end of last month, Robert Lewandowski will be looking forward to this game as he continues to prove his worth at the highest level of football.
The Polish hitman has already netted 27 goals in 21 competitive appearances this season, including nine in the UEFA Champions League. His recent exploits came in the 3-2 win over Borussia Dortmund, with the forward notably scoring a brace. He was also on target in the reverse fixture against Barcelona, scoring a brace in the 3-0 win.
Lewandowski is hoping for a similar performance as he looks to extend his incredible goalscoring record in all major competitions. The veteran striker is already third in the all-time scoring charts in the Champions League, having netted 82 goals in 101 appearances. He will be looking to get closer towards the 100-goal mark with yet another clinical display this midweek.
Bayern Munich 4-1 Barcelona
Given the way Barcelona have performed this season, it is difficult to predict anything other than a clinical win for Bayern Munich. The Bavarians are simply too strong for the Catalans at the moment, boasting better players, a better system and by far a more well-established coach, who has already masterminded key victories for the team this season.
However, we are expecting Barcelona to breach the Bayern backline that has looked very shaky this season. But the odd goal or two might only be a consolation, as the German Rekordmeister look to add more salt into the wounds for the visitors this midweek.