Today’s lunchtime draw for the Champions League semi-finals has paired Barça with four-times European Champions and recently-crowned 2012/13 Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. The first leg will be played at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday 23 April with the return game at Camp Nou on Wednesday 1 May.
Bayern are arguably the most in-form team in Europe at the moment. They tied up the Bundesliga last week with six games to spare with an impressive 79 goals scored and only 13 conceded. In the Champions League they overcame Valencia, BATE Borisov and Lille to win Group F and then knocked out Arsenal in the last 16 before their imposing 4-0 aggregate win over Juventus in the quarter-finals.
Having lost to Chelsea in last season’s final Bayern will be hoping to go one better this year. Coach Jupp Heynckes usually employs a 4-2-3-1 system and with Toni Kroos out for the season and Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic provisionally suspended for the first leg, against Barça he may play Manuel Neuer in goal, a back four of Philipp Lahm, Dante, Daniel Van Buyten and David Alaba, a double defensive pivot of Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger, with Arjen Robben on the right going forward, Franck Ribery on the left with Thomas Müller playing behind the main striker Mario Gomez.
Heynckes has been setting the standards for Pep Guardiola next season and Barça will need to be at 100%. Four years ago the teams met at the quarter-finals stage with Barça producing possibly the best 45 minutes of football seen under Guardiola in the 4-0 first leg win before a 1-1 draw in Munich saw Barça go through 5-1 on aggregate. Bayern have come a long way since then and Barça are going to have a much harder job to get through.
The prize for the winners will be a place in the final at Wembley on May 25 against the victors of the other semi-final between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Many will be looking at the possibility of a Barça-Madrid final but before we get ahead of ourselves we should remember that there was a similar situation last season and both Barça and Madrid ended up losing their semis. Curiously, just like last season, the two Spanish teams have home advantage in the second leg again. It counted for little last season. How will the games go this time round? Wembley awaits.