UEFA Champions League Semifinal Preview: Barcelona vs. Bayern München

Alex Grimm

A 4-0 dominant win puts Bayern in the driving seat ahead of a trip to the Camp Nou. However, in this Spanish stadium, other teams have suffered endlessly. Bayern has to hold on for ninety minutes against a Barcelona side capable of beating the best of the best.

Bayern München will travel to Barcelona looking to protect a 4-0 lead. The task is not done yet.

Tactics

Let us not waste time and delve into the world of tactics. Jupp Heynckes does not have any plans of parking the bus. This is perhaps the most obvious statement as we all know that Bayern CANNOT park the bus. They can defend well and counterattack nonetheless. The game plan will not change. The personnel are set to remain the same too; that will be discussed about greatly. Jordi Alba's suspension should make Heynckes' side attack Barcelona more on their left side. Of course Dani Alves can be caught out too on the other side. Alves however is dangerous in his 'winger defender' role.

How Tito Vilanova will set his side up this time is anybody's guess. Francesc Fabregas could be given a start in midfield on the wing while Alex Song might be brought in to shore up the defense. Lionel Messi is more fit than he was last week as displayed by his goal against Athletic Bilbao in Barcelona's 2-2 draw at the weekend. Barcelona will press incessantly from the whistle; Bayern will have to withstand it all along with the noise in Camp Nou before starting to get a foothold in the game.

It is difficult to figure out what Barcelona will do differently because they have essentially stuck to one style since Pep's overhaul in 2008- pass, pass and pass the opposition until they are too tired to chase shadows. Barca did have a massive amount of possession in the first leg. There were at least two incidents in which Bayern fans got impatient as Bayern was not being able to win the ball back.

In short, Barcelona players will come back, ready to do what they normally do but just not the way in which they did it in the Allianz Arena. Bayern will try to replicate what they did to the Catalans in the first leg. Most importantly, if possible, they will be looking to score an early goal to ensure that Barca tries to move forward quickly, leaving more room for counters. Barca's desperateness for an away goal is what translated to the two late goals by Bayern in the Allianz.

Let History not Dictate

This is perhaps the worst time to talk about something Pep Guardiola mentioned. However, he had once said in his Barca days that bad luck should not be enough to stand in Barca's way, red card, injury, come what may. And this applies to Bayern as well. This is because, 2009 onwards, in every semifinal at the Camp Nou, at least one huge decision has been made for the home side. I am not accusing Barcelona of cheating; I am just saying that something always happens in their favor. They don't always take advantage nonetheless. Here is a look:

2008-09 Semifinals: Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona

Tom Henning Ovrebo famously does not give Chelsea three deserved penalties. Barcelona goes through on an Andres Iniesta away goal. There is really no discussion about the legitimacy of those three penalties. At least two were extremely clear cut.

2009-10 Semifinals: Barcelona 1-0 Inter Milan

Thiago Motta fouls Sergio Busquets; referee deems the foul strong enough to give Motta a red card. In some leagues, the Italian would have only been warned. Busquets is seen peeking through his fingers to see what decision the referee makes. Inter Milan holds on; they almost did not as a goal in the last minute by Barca was ruled out because of questionable handball. If any team moved mountains to beat Barcelona, it is Inter Milan. Inter went through 3-2 on aggregate to a final against Bayern.

2010-11 Semifinals: Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid takes the lead through a perfectly legitimate goal by Gonzalo Higuain; Cristiano Ronaldo is adjudged to have committed a foul en route to providing the pass. The foul was really nothing more than a tiny nudge, if at all a nudge, if at all a nudge. Madrid did not go ahead and could only draw en route to a 1-3 aggregate defeat. Barcelona went on to win the competition by beating Manchester United in the final.

2011-12 Semifinals: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea

John Terry is sent off early on for a foul on Alexis Sanchez, to be more precise, for putting his knee into Sanchez. To be clear, he did deserve a card. Perhaps, this was not an incorrect decision. Nonetheless, again this favored Barcelona. They even earned a penalty in the second half but Lionel Messi struck the bar. The game finished 2-2; Chelsea advanced 2-3 on aggregate to the final.

As a result, the message to Bayern is clear: BE CAREFUL! And this applies especially to Javier Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo considering that some of the tackles they make are just slightly mistimed but look just a bit terrible on replays. David Alaba is sometimes too strong in the tackle too.

The Referee

I just have to talk about him! Slovenian Damir Skomina is going to take charge. The discussions about referees being selected only from countries where the leagues are rated as some of the best in the world rage on. Skomina officiated Dortmund's 3-0 win over Shaktar Donetsk in March. According to goal.com, he is known for his 'no nonsense' nature. This usually translates to a huge production of cards. Incidentally, in the picture used in goal.com, he is actually showing a yellow card to Mark Van Bommel!

Team News and Lineup

Holger Badstuber and Toni Kroos are out for Bayern. We will not see either of them for a long time. Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano are both out. By the way, how many of you know that Puyol is 35? Alba is suspended for trying to break Arjen Robben's face (okay, that's an exaggeration; Robben would have fallen if Alba had thrown a bit of grass in his face too). Alba's behavior was rather shocking. I don't ever remember violence from him in his Valencia days.

Jupp Heynckes cannot eye the final at this point; he has to play his best team to beat Barcelona. A total of six Bayern players including Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javier Martinez, Philipp Lahm, Dante, Luiz Gustavo and Mario Gomez could be suspended for the finale upon collecting a single yellow card if Bayern was to make it (thanks Millie!). That "if" is still an "if". Games are won at full time, not half time. (I might sound a small bit like Matthias Sammer at the moment.)

This is perhaps going to be the lineup:

Manuel Neuer

Philipp Lahm- Dante- Jerome Boateng- David Alaba

Bastian Schweinsteiger- Javier Martinez

Arjen Robben- Thomas Müller- Franck Ribery

Mario Mandzukic

Mandzukic was not really on his game against Freiburg. If he is not playing too well, expect the looming figure of Mario Gomez to enter the fray. Heynckes uses this tiny plot n each game: he puts in Gustavo late on for an attacking player, letting Schweinsteiger move into attacking midfield mode. This is usually to protect a lead.

Two of Bayern's four goals in the Allianz were scored when Basti was the CAM (provided that Gustavo had just come on before the third). He could start the game like that with Müller perhaps playing as front man. However, that would take away Müller's fun role as an interpreter of space. Hence, Heynckes will in all likelihood stick with the tried and tested players from the pair of games against Juventus and the first match against Barcelona (aside from Mario Gomez perhaps).

Final Thoughts

Bayern's last visit to the Camp Nou wasn't pretty to say the least. A Barca in perfect sync played a distraught Bayern side and beat them 4-0. Jürgen Klinsmann relegated Lahm (yes, LAHM!) to the bench for that one. Lionel Messi was on fire that day; even Chelsea's bus would not have stopped him in that match. Barca went easy on Bayern in the second half as each goal came in the first half. The moment which stands out for me is this: Franck Ribery sent in a perfect cross for Luca Toni at, if my memory serves me correctly, 2-0; Toni, who is a pretty good header of the ball, skied his effort. That moment could have helped Bayern a small bit.

This time, despite carrying a 4-0 lead themselves, Bayern has to be careful. Complacency could get in the way again. Also, Barca on great days is unstoppable. Remaining humble, playing as a team and working hard will be the keys once again to unlocking the Spanish champions elect.

Can Bayern get the job done?

As always, thanks for making an effort to skim through my long preview!

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