Barça will need to make one of the greatest ever Champions League comebacks to reach this year’s Wembley final on May 25. Last week’s 4-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the semi-final first leg has left Tito Vilanova’s men with a mountain to climb, though anything is possible with 90 minutes still to play at Camp Nou.
A look at some historic recoveries is always useful to create belief and Barça would do well to remember that Bayern were the victims of one of the most epic recoveries ever when they conceded twice in injury time to lose to Manchester United in the 1999 final at Camp Nou. Bayern will also have bad memories of their last performance in Barcelona when Eto’o, Messi, Henry & co. took just 45 minutes to knock four goals past them in the 2009 quarter-finals. Since then Barça have faced German opposition on two more occasions at Camp Nou, beating Stuttgart 4-0 in the last 16 in 2010 and hammering Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 in the last 16 last season.
So, Barça have a favourable balance of fifteen goals to one in the last three games against German opposition at Camp Nou. Leo Messi has been instrumental in those games scoring a remarkable nine goals (two vs Bayern, two vs Stuttgart and five vs Leverkusen) and the Argentinian will again be crucial if Barça are going to have a chance. He wasn’t at 100% for last week’s game in Munich but he demonstrated in 30 minutes in the 2-2 draw at Athletic on Saturday that he is getting back to his best.
Risking players who are not completely fit has backfired for Barça both in the first game in Milan (Xavi and Fabregas) and in Munich (Busquets and Messi). Busquets is still suffering with a groin strain, and given his poor performance last week it would seem more sensible to play Alex Song in his place to support Xavi and Iniesta in midfield. Javier Mascherano is also in a race to get fit in time but the most recent reports seem to suggest he probably won’t make it. So, with Jordi Alba suspended we could see a makeshift back four of Alves, Bartrá, Piqué and Adriano.
The defence simply cannot afford to concede a goal but going forward we are going to need more than just the magic of Messi. Alexis, Villa, Tello and Pedro have been sharing the responsibility all season and it is again a tough call to decide who should play tomorrow. The fact that we need goals suggests that Villa should certainly get the nod while the speed of Tello could be vital to turn the German defence.
The decision of course is with Vilanova, and I have always preferred to trust the coach with these things as he can see so much that we as fans cannot. However, it must be said that the decision to make only four changes in Bilbao to the XI that started in Munich is difficult to understand. Of course, we still need points to win La Liga but given our big advantage over second-placed Real Madrid one can only wonder at the wisdom of starting with Alves, Piqué and Xavi in Bilbao. We need everybody to be as fresh as possible tomorrow to play with the necessary intensity.
In contrast Bayern’s coach Jupp Heynckes made ten changes to his team for Bayern’s 1-0 win over SC Freiburg on Saturday with only centre back Boateng maintaining his place. Heynckes also has striker Mario Mandzukic available again after he missed the first leg through suspension. Heynckes knows his team cannot afford to take tomorrow’s game lightly but he will also be worried by having six players, Lahm, Dante, Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Luiz Gustavo and Mario Gomez, under threat of suspension for the final if they receive a yellow card.
Of course, it is not going to be easy, but Barça would do well to think about scoring the first goal before they start thinking about scoring the fourth or fifth. The team needs to get back to basics of playing an intense high pressing game with a rapid movement of the ball in possession. We showed against Milan in the last 16 that we are still capable of playing fantastic football. If we play at the same level tomorrow then we can at least cause some worry for the Germans. And who knows, perhaps with a little luck along the way we can give Bayern another horrible Camp Nou memory to add to the 2009 quarter-final and the 1999 final. The score of 5-0 has a special meaning for Barça. Here’s to another manita tomorrow.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Bartrá, Piqué, Adriano; Xavi, Song, Iniesta; Villa, Messi, Tello.
Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba; Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Muller, Ribery; Mandzukic.
Prediction: Barça 5 Bayern 0 (believe!!!)
Date: Wednesday 1 May 2013. Kick off 8.45 pm local time.