On the back of an alarming injury crisis and an equally alarming run of four losses on the trot, Pep Guardiola will be looking for a minor miracle from his side as they look to overturn a three-goal deficit.
Bayern were hammered 3-0 in the first leg at the Camp Nou when Lionel Messi scored twice within three minutes and then set up another for Neymar in the dying ambers of the game to give the Catalans a healthy lead to take to the Allianz Arena; a place where they have never won before.
Bayern’s previous two home meetings in the Champions League finished 7-0 and 6-1 in their favour against Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto respectively, while they won 4-0 against the Blaugrana the last time they came to town two years ago. A repeat of any of those scorelines would see the Bavarians reach their fourth final in six years, so not all hope is lost for the German champions.
But in Luis Suarez, Messi and Neymar, Guardiola faces a front trio that has scored 112 goals between them; one goal from Europe’s most potent attack and FC Hollywood would need five or more to go through.
But Barcelona’s attack is not its only impressive facet; the Catalans have not conceded in their last seven matches. With 38 wins in their last 42 games and 17 in their last 18, the Blaugrana are Europe’s definitive form side and have the potential to humiliate Bayern.
Barcelona will not look to merely cling onto their lead and would go all guns blazing into the contest. With the Germans forced to chase the game, there will be space to exploit for the La Liga leaders; something they are not afforded too often.
What to do about Messi?
In the first leg, Guardiola had started off with a three-man defence that was ‘man-marking’ the front trio, later changing it to a more orthodox flat four. The visitors kept Barcelona at bay for 77 minutes but then Messi happened. The Argentine single-handedly squashed Bayern’s hopes of a place in the final.
Some would say the tie ended when Messi jinked past Jerome Boateng, leaving the defender for dead and ensuring that the Catalan giants keep themselves in contention for their fifth European
triumph and the coveted treble.
Guardiola had said before the first leg that Messi is unstoppable; if he is to ensure that his Bayern side do not fall at the penultimate hurdle once more, he must find a way to answer the riddle he created. Clocks aticking.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2015.
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