They’re the best team in the world. They can stop anyone in their tracks with a possession-based game, high-pressing on defense, and a cutting edge on the offensive end. It doesn’t just look pretty, it is also so effective that they’re the highest scoring team in the league. Which team am I talking about, Barcelona or Bayern Munich? It probably depends on who you ask, but the majority will probably say the Bavarians, simply because they’re obliterating their domestic competition and looking great while doing it.
What Barcelona fans will want to hear is that they’ve still got Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. They’ve got Pique, Alba, Alves, and Busi. They’ve got Cesc and Alexis. They’ve got Victor Valdes. And they’ve got a certain someone named Eric Abidal. Another guy named Tito Vilanova strides in front of the bench. That’s not a team to be trifled with. Sure, they’re banged up, but that name in the middle of the list–Messi–is a name for opponents to fear no matter how hurt his hamstring is.
Whatever the issues in the PSG game, whatever happened in the 1-0 against Levante, the team will have to play more like the first leg against PSG than the second in order to have a chance. The issues have to be put behind them, weak back line and all. Possession doesn’t have to be vertical nor sterile. It can be the possession we’ve come to know and love: circulating, jabbing, circulating more, jabbing again. Eventually a hole will be created while the opposition is worn down by the constant defense. The question has become one of too much verticality, too many quick transitions given up to a team unable to press as its harriers are caught above their defenders, sterile in possession because they rely on instant genius.
The thing is, if Bayern Munich thinks they have that lighting in a bottle well and truly corked — and make no mistake, Jupp Heynckes talks a big game about this — they’re insane. It’s not just Messi who is capable of magic, though he is the principle wizard; Andres Iniesta is a mago in his own right. Whatever your opinion of him, Alexis is capable of the darting run off the ball to unlock a defense. Xavi will always be metronomic, always steady, always looking for that killer pass or, if needed, that finishing touch.
The teeter to this totter, though, is that Bayern has lots of lightning stored up as well. They’re capable of dramatic routs, like their complete dismantling of Hannover 6-1 on Saturday, while they’re capable of methodical destruction, like in their Champions League quarterfinal against Juventus. They could easily win a domestic double (they’ve already got the league title wrapped up) and there’s no doubt they’re fully capable of winning the third Triple in history.
Barcelona: Valdés, Pinto, Dani Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Bartra, Sergio, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Montoya, Abidal, Song, Tello, Oier.
Adriano is missing through suspension while Masche and Puyi are out through injury. For Munich, Bastian Schweinsteiger is coming off an injury while Mario Mandzukic is still not 100%. Will Javi Martinez get a chance to show Barcelona why it should have purchased him instead of trusting Busquets? The likelihood is no, but the potential is there, I suppose! Robben and Ribery will have to be very sure of themselves in front of goal or they may very well find themselves looking down the barrel of a couple of away goals.
In the end, this should be a tense affair rather than the open-and-insane PSG second leg: it has draw written all over it. Probably not 0-0 as that doesn’t benefit either side a lot (technically it is better for Munich), but 1-1 sound about right. 2-2 if the teams decide to really attack in the last half an hour. The real fireworks should come in the second leg, when there is a clear winner and loser from particular outcomes. Bayern will want to put things to rest in the first leg, of course, but giving Barcelona space through the middle is just asking for long-term trouble. Even a 2-1 loss wouldn’t make Barcelona panic, so that’s very much a possibility It should be noted that Bayern Munich have a tremendous defense record, having allowed just 14 goals in their 30 league matches. Barcelona have allowed 33. Still, with 99 goals to their credit, the Catalans are hardly an impotent offensive threat. Munich have 89 goals, so they’re actually averaging fewer goals per game.
Official Prediction: 2-2. There’s just too much attacking talent on hand to not see goals. Despite Munich’s sterling defensive record, Messi scores something ludicrous for such a injured little tyke. And Iniesta gets on the end of an Iniestazo that could be big news later on.