The quarter finals of the revamped UEFA Champions League will get underway tonight. This is the first – and could very well turn out to be the last – time that the UEFA Champions League will be held in this avatar owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
From the quarter-finals onward, all matches will be held in two stadiums in Lisbon. And we have a stellar quarter-final lineup to look forward to.
Battle of the European heavyweights
Bayern and Barcelona jointly hold the record for most UEFA Champions League quarter final appearances and will face each other in their both their 19th Champions League quarter finals. Many have touted the tie between the two European heavyweights to be a sort of “final before the final”. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, there is no question that the winner of the tie will really fancy their chances of lifting the trophy on the Sunday of 23rd August.
With an 18-game winning run, the Bavarians are many people’s favorites to beat Barcelona this Friday and remain within the Top 3 teams to win the tournament according to the odds at Sports Betting Dime. They brushed aside Chelsea in the round of 16, and their talismanic centre forward, Robert Lewandowski has been in irresistible form this season.
On the other hand, Barcelona would be very pleased with their victory over Napoli last Saturday, riding on the back of yet another memorable Lionel Messi performance. They seem to have found a bit of form after a very shaky end to their La Liga campaign. And if they can manage their defensive frailties against this rampaging Bayern side, they will fancy their chances of making a significant impression at the other end.
FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich have met 8 times in the Champions league, with Bayern winning 5, Barca 2 and 1 match ending a draw. However, they have met in 3 knockout ties spread over 6 matches, and FC Barcelona have gone through on 2 of those 3 occasions.
The Home Factor
Both these clubs are renowned for their prowess at their home stadium. FC Barcelona have not lost on their own turf in the UEFA Champions League since 2013, an unbeaten run that now stands at 36 matches, following their win over Napoli. Incidentally, the last team to beat them at the Camp Nou was Bayern.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich has developed a reputation for not just beating, but demolishing their opponents at the Allianz Arena. A trip to the Allianz Arena is surely one of the most feared trips in Europe in recent times.
Now with the new format of the Champions League, both teams lose out on a factor that has worked heavily in their favour in the past. Perhaps, it is not a factor that hurts one team significantly more than the other. Or maybe it is. Either way, a 90 minute tug of war in Lisbon for a place in the Champions League semi final is a very different reality for both these teams.
The Lionel Messi Factor
A lot of things have changed since these 2 sides met in a UEFA Champions League knockout for the first time in the 2008-09 season. For one, that season Barca went on to win the treble. This season, it is Bayern who is chasing the hallowed treble. A lot has also changed since their last meeting in the 2014-15 semi finals. Among all this, one factor remains as ever-present as ever – the little Argentine magician who goes by the name of Lionel Messi.
Hailed by many as the greatest footballer ever to have played, Lionel Messi has been a crucial factor in the Barca-Bayern match up on several occasions. He was the crucial factor in Barca’s 2014-15 semi final triumph, putting in a performance that will be talked about for many years to come.
2 years prior to that, Bayern took advantage of an injured Messi to hand Barcelona arguably their biggest drubbing this century, winning 7-0 over the 2 legs.
In the 2008-09 quarter finals, Barcelona had obliterated Bayern at the Camp Nou with Lionel Messi playing a starring role.
Messi has once again been in tremendous form, finishing La Liga with the highest number of goals as well as an all time record number of assists. Against Napoli, he scored arguably the goal of the competition so far, as part of an irresistible first half performance.
To beat FC Barcelona, you need to contain Lionel Messi to the maximum extent possible. That is just a practicality of playing against the Blaugrana. Football is a team game, but no other individual player can impact a game the game the way Lionel Messi can. It will be interesting to see what tactics Flick employs to deal with the everpresent threat of the great man. Will we see someone like an Alaba or Davies on Messi’s toes throughout the 90 minutes? Whatever the tactic employed, the crucial question is, will it be enough?