Bayern Munich and Barça commence battle tomorrow evening (Tuesday 8.45 pm) with a place in the Uefa Champions League final on May 25 at stake. With four European Cups each there can be few bigger clashes than this in world football.
Barça travelled to Munich this morning with all 21 available players including Leo Messi. The Argentinian has still not received medical clearance though he will surely be risked for such an important match. Eric Abidal’s cousin Gerard, who donated part of his liver to save Abidal’s life, has also travelled with the team as a special guest.
Bayern are clearly the in-form team. In 2013 they have won 18 out of their 19 matches in all competitions, and their one defeat, the 0-2 reverse against Arsenal in the last 16, turned out to be a victory as Bayern still progressed to the next round. Since the Arsenal game Bayern have won eight out of eight while scoring an impressive 32 goals and only conceding five.
Bayern’s 67-year-old coach Jupp Heynckes will step down at the end of the season to make way for Pep Guardiola but he would undoubtedly love to go out with another Champions League trophy to add to the one he won with Real Madrid in 1998. Heynckes is without the injured Toni Kroos and Holgar Badstuber and the suspended Mario Mandzukic for tomorrow’s game but Bayern have plenty of strength in depth with players such as the experienced Daniel Van Buyten and Arjen Robben and the prolific goalscorer Mario Gomez ready to step in.
Looking through Bayern’s possible starting XI it is difficult to find weaknesses. Manuel Neuer is a top keeper, they have two solid centre backs in Van Buyten and the Brazilian Dante, while Philipp Lahm and David Alaba are both excellent attacking full backs. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the playmaker supported by record signing Javi Martinez in a double midfield pivot. The loss of Kroos means Thomas Muller will play a central attacking midfield role with Franck Ribery and Robben cutting in from the flanks to support Gomez in attack.
Ribery and Robben are both very dangerous but perhaps they are not so disciplined defensively and Barça will hope to exploit this through Dani Alves and Jordi Alba. There has been a fair bit of debate about who Barça will play in attack and it is possible that Tito Vilanova will opt for the hard-working Pedro and Alexis to combat the threat from Bayern’s wing play. Barça will also want to dominate the midfield so it is likely that Messi will look to drop back to combine with Xavi and Iniesta to gain the advantage over Martinez and Schweinsteiger. Possession is going to be very important and it will be interesting to see how Bayern cope without the ball as they are used to dominating games in this respect.
Besides the choice of forwards Vilanova’s other big decision is who to play alongside Gerard Piqué in central defence. With Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano injured and Adriano Correia suspended the choice is between Eric Abidal and Marc Bartrá. Abidal’s strong performance against Levante has put him in the frame but it still seems more likely that Bartrá will get the job. Abidal’s case is without precedent; before Saturday there might have been doubts about his capacity to last 90 minutes but he demonstrated he can last the pace. Now the doubt is whether he can play another game so soon after the first one but as Abidal is fond of saying ‘impossible is nothing’.
The two sides have met three times before in European competion. In 1996 the Germans knocked Barça out of the Uefa Cup semi-finals after a 4-3 win on aggregate before going on to win the trophy. In the 1998/99 season the teams were paired in the same Champions League group with Bayern winning both games, Barça were eliminated while Bayern reached the final when they famously lost to two Manchester United injury time goals. Barça’s revenge came in 2009 when in the Champions League quarter-final first leg, Eto’o, Henry and Messi destroyed Bayern in a memorable 4-0 win at Camp Nou before a 1-1 draw in Munich. That year, of course, Barça went on to lift the trophy in Rome.
The last time the two teams met was in a preseason friendly on 27 July 2011 with Thiago Alcántara scoring twice in a 0-2 win in Munich. Tomorrow’s game will no doubt be much more difficult though if Barça show the correct mentality and play with a high intensity then I’m sure we can come away with a good result. Both teams have three players one yellow card away from suspension: Lahm, Dante and Luis Gustavo for Bayern and Piqué, Alba and Song for Barça. The referee is the Hungarian Victor Kassai who was in charge for Barça’s 2011 final win over Manchester United and also for last month’s 4-0 win over AC Milan.
Barça’s 21-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Abidal, Alba, Busquets, Song, Dos Santos, Xavi, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis, Villa, Tello.
Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba; Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Muller, Ribery; Gomez.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Bartrá, Piqué, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 1 Barça 1
Date: Tuesday 23 April 2013. Kick off 8.45 pm local time.