The historical heavyweights of European club football clash in the Champions League semi-final first legs in two match ups of the highest magnitude. Defending European champions Real Madrid travel to the Juventus Stadium in Turin to play the Serie A champions Juventus on Tuesday night whilst Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich make their way to the Nou Camp to take on a red hot FC Barcelona with the big story being Pep Guardiola’s return to the club that he is undeniably synonymous with.
BARCELONA V BAYERN MUNICH
This match will bring back memories for both clubs of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League semi-finals but the fixture now has become about a tale of two evolutions.
Thomas Müller bagged a brace either side of goals from Mario Gomez and the quicksilver Arjen Robben as Bayern established an irreversible first-leg lead and they showed no mercy at the Camp Nou with Robben and Müller on target again as Bayern romped home to an unprecedented 7-0 aggregate semi-final victory.
Jupp Heynckes’ team had transformed the mighty Nou Camp into a dark and desolate scene as a mercurial Bayern Munich outclassed their Spanish rivals in every department to put an end to the era of Barca dominance.
The manner in which Bayern disassembled Barcelona on those nights will stick long in the memory and a rapidly resurgent Barcelona will no doubt have that result at the back of their minds heading into this one. Surely no extra motivation needed then from boss Luis Enrique.
His team are quite simply flying now after he struggled early in the season to find the winning formula. They currently sit top 2 points clear at the top of La Liga after thrashing Cordoba by 8 goals to nil last weekend and have sailed through the Champions League so far with consummate ease beating PSG by 5-1 over the two legs in the quarters.
In Messi, Neymar Jr and Suarez they have the best attack in the world and the individual forces have combined over the course of the season to develop into a three pronged attack that spells perpetual danger for opposition defences. Neymar has netted 33 times, Suarez 24 and Messi has 51 goals this season across all competitions. All three are fit and firing.
Pep Guardiola is largely considered the creator of the Barcelona team that dominated Europe. In four seasons under Guardiola’s management Barca won 14 trophies, including a pair of La Liga and Champions League doubles in both 2009 and 2011. Now he returns to his former club where he once and largely is still revered.
Guardiola may have been hoping that the boot would be on his foot once again when he joined Bayern after Barca’s thrashing at their hands but his team will go into this clash as underdogs despite already having clinched the Bundesliga title and trouncing Porto 6-1 to overturn a 3-1 deficit in the quarters.
Bayern Munich have been injury ravaged of late and will go into the match without the man who caused so much havoc in 2012/13, Arjen Robben, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn calf muscle. Franck Ribery has been struggling for full fitness and despite being in contention to start is only just coming in off an injury. Badstuber and David Alaba are also long term absentees.
26-year-old Robert Lewandowski is the German champions’ top-scorer with 23 goals but again he is coming into this match off the back of being injured. Lewandowski broke his nose and cheekbone and also suffered from concussion following a nasty collision with goalkeeper Mitch Langerak in Bayern’s DFB-Pokal semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat to Borussia Dortmund. He trained with a protective mask this week and looks likely to feature but whether he can produce his best at the moment is doubtful.
Both clubs have developed their styles in differing ways since changing managers however Pep’s ability to showcase the full extent of his sides’ quality will surely be undermined by injuries at least for now. Barcelona look slightly more direct and purposeful with Suarez spearheading the line now- even more so than when they were dominating with possession heavy football under Pep.
However Guardiola still has the advantage of knowing most of the Barcelona players inside out and could employ the right tactics to ensure Bayern bring the tie back to the Allianz Arena with a chance of progressing. A win for Luis Enrique and barca fans could be talking about the dawn of a new era not to mention that it could go half way to setting up an El Clasico final should Real Madrid get through versus Juventus.