Cast your minds back two seasons. On the 1st of May, 2013, Bayern Munich ruthlessly humiliated FC Barcelona in front of their own fans, condemning them to a 7-0 aggregate loss in the semi-finals of the Champions league. Iniesta and Xavi came off a poor second best to Schweinsteiger and Martinez, while an injured Lionel Messi found meaningful touches hard to come by. It was, for many, a watershed moment; the age of Spanish predominance was over, and the time for German superiority was upon us. Bayern would go on to beat their rivals, Borussia Dortmund, in the Champions league final, and surely dominate the footballing world for many years to come.
This supposed dominance, however, has not been apparent. Bayern Munich were undone spectacularly by Real Madrid in last season’s rendition of Europe’s elite competition, levelling the Spanish/ German playing field somewhat. With this in mind, it is perhaps appropriate that tonight’s rematch between these two footballing giants could not be more difficult to call. Barcelona perhaps impressed slightly more in the previous round, easing past PSG into the last four, while Bayern replied to a genuine scare by turning round a 3-1 deficit in spectacular style.
In terms of form, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side are one of the most in-form sides in the world. They smashed 8 past Cordoba in their last outing, with Messi, Suarez and Neymar (dubbed the MSN trio) playing some unstoppable football. In contrast, Bayern lost their previous league fixture with Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. Perhaps we should not read too much into this though, as Bayern rested six key players due to their status as German champions already being confirmed. This could prove a deciding factor over the two legs, with la Liga still well and truly in the balance, and Barcelona more likely, therefore, to feel the effects of mid-week football.
Another thing working in Munich’s favour is that their head coach, Pep Guardiola, knows Barcelona inside out. Guardiola managed Barca to 14 trophies during his four years at the helm, and was instrumental in ascension to becoming one of the world’s best sides. He experienced the magic of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi week in, week out, and will have a good idea of what makes it most difficult for these players. On the other hand, Guardiola himself has confessed that Lionel Messi, when in the mood, is close to unstoppable. I, for one, would not contest that, as I firmly believe he is back to playing something like his best, making him comfortably the best player in the world.
Add to the Messi factor his two partners up front, Suarez and Neymar, and you’ve got the best strike force in world football. Granted, Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema isn’t exactly a front three many would complain about, but the Barca trio have scored more than 100 goals between them this season, and they’ve only been together since the end of October.
I could go on about various match-ups, between Pique and Lewandowski, Iniesta and Alonso, Neymar and Lahm, Messi and Neur, but this is only meant to be a blog, not a dissertation. Suffice to say, the only disappointing thing about tonight’s fixture is that it’s not taking place on June 6th in Berlin, as the competition’s final.
As for a prediction, it’s really tough to call. Simply for my sentimental attachment to Barcelona, I’m going to say 3-1 to the home side, but you’ll have to ask me who’ll get through overall in a couple of weeks.
Okay, I’ll stop writing now, but I’m really excited. Expect more soon.