Champions League football is back at Camp Nou this Wednesday (kick off 20.45 local time) with Barça playing Bayer Leverkusen for a place in the quarter-finals. It will be an uphill task for the Germans to overcome Barça’s 1-3 win from the first leg three weeks ago, but anything can happen in football and Pep Guardiola will no doubt treat the game with the utmost seriousness to avoid any upset.
With this season’s Liga looking more and more complicated the Champions League has taken on even more importance than usual. The ten-point gap in La Liga means we have to rely on others to lend us a hand, unfortunately some teams seem to lie down too easily when playing Madrid and there is nothing we can do about it. However, if the league does end up in Madrid we would be more than consoled by winning another Champions League and the Copa del Rey. For the last three summers, Barça fans have had bragging rights over Madrid. Another win for Barça when the teams meet in the league match at Camp Nou combined with a victory in Munich’s Allianz Arena on May 19 would suffice to confirm we are still the top dogs.
To get to Munich we must first see off Leverkusen. Since losing the first leg Bayer have won all three of their Bundesliga games including a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich on Saturday. The Germans will no doubt take on the role of victims, but with 4,000 fans travelling to the game they are sure to give their best for the 90 minutes.
Barça will be without Alexis, who scored two goals in the first leg, while Thiago Alcantara and Eric Abidal are both still out. However, the good news is that Leo Messi will return to the team along with Sergio Busquets after both missed the win over Sporting due to suspension. Cristian Tello and Marc Muniesa trained with the first team yesterday and therefore could be brought into the squad for the game. I’m sure that given our advantage from the first leg, many fans will want to see Tello given another chance in the team, however, I feel that Guardiola will play more or less our strongest side from the start and will only bring on Tello for the last half hour or so.
In Pep Guardiola’s time as first team coach we have seen some fine performances at the stage of the competition. In 2009 we hammered Lyon 5-2 after an absolutely blistering first half with Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o in fine form. In 2010 we hit four past Stuttgart with two from a brilliant Messi, and then last season we beat Arsenal 3-1, Messi got two again, including one of his sweetest goals (notice how the classless English commentators concentrate on Fabregas’s error rather than Messi’s brilliance).
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Bayer: Leno, Schwaab, Reinartz, Friedrich, Corluka, Kadlec, Castro, Rolfes, Bender, Renato Augusto, Kiessling
First leg: Bayer 1-3 Barça (Goals: m41 Alexis 0-1, m51 Kadlec 1-1, m55 Alexis 1-2, m88 Messi 1-3)
My prediction: Barça 3 Leverkusen 0