Bayern Munich v. Barcelona – UEFA Champions League – Quarter-finals Preview
As far as marquee value goes, you won’t find too many clubs bigger than Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Between these two giants, they’ve made twelve appearances in the Champions League/European Cup Final, with Barcelona winning twice and Bayern winning four times (including three in a row from 1971-1973). They currently boast some of the best and most talented players in the world, as their rosters read like a veritable Who’s Who in world football. Additionally, both clubs thrashed their opponents in the Round of 16 and enter the Quarterfinals with a considerable amount of momentum.
Plus, there’s the revenge factor (although it’s more than a decade in the making). In the 1998-1999 Champions League, Barcelona lost to Bayern Munich twice in the group stage, which helped knock the Catalans out of the competition. That was an especially bitter pill for Barca, since the Finals were held at the Nou Camp that year (although Bayern certainly didn’t get the last laugh as far as the Nou Camp was concerned). Plus, you have the prospect of Bayern’s skipper, Mark van Bommel, a Champions League winner with Barca, going against his former club.
So why isn’t this matchup getting nearly the amount of hype and coverage as some of the other ones?
For one thing, Bayern’s title credentials remain somewhat muddied. Despite their 12-1 aggregate destruction of Sporting Lisbon in the Round of 16, Bayern have not been able to convince their critics of their quality. Their domestic campaign has been erratic, although they currently sit in second place, a mere one point behind Hertha Berlin. As of the international break, they’ve reeled off a five match unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga (winning four of those matches), since a February 14th loss to Hertha Berlin. However, they were recently eliminated in the German Cup, losing 4-2 to Bayer Leverkusen, and have embarrassing losses on their resume against the likes of Werder Bremen, Hanover 96, and Hamburg SV.
Additionally, despite Bayern’s historical track record, they have been turning into a second-tier club as of late. In recent years, they’ve seen the likes of Michael Ballack, Owen Hargreaves, and Claudio Pizarro leave for bigger clubs, while they’ve missed out on several big-time players, most notably Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who ended up going to Real Madrid. This year could be more of the same, as playmaking midfielder Frank Ribery has drawn interest from Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Real Madrid, while Bastian Schweinsteiger could also be auditioning for a move to the Nou Camp. Nevertheless, they’re unbeaten in Europe this season, and can brag about having entered the annals of history with the largest aggregate win in Champions League history. Plus, their Big Three of Ribery, Miroslav Klose, and Luca Toni have outscored their counterparts from Barca, having found the net 13 times in Champions League competition. That has to count for something, right?
As for Barcelona, they were the hands-down/no-brainer/lock-of-all-locks to win the Champions League after a blistering start to their domestic and European campaigns. After a brief slip-up in La Liga, during which time they lost back-to-back matches against Espanyol and Atletico Madrid, their luster seemed to fade a little bit. Additionally, the fact that they gave up 3 goals to what should have been an overmatched Lyon team in the Round of 16 caused many people to get off the Barca Bandwagon.
However, they seem to have righted the ship and look to be clicking on all cylinders once again. They haven’t conceded a goal in La Liga since that loss to Atletico Madrid and look to be cruising towards a domestic double. And, of course, they still have the Big Three of Leo Messi, Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry, who have scored a combined 59 goals in La Liga, which is more than any other team besides Real Madrid. They’ve been just as effective in Europe, combining for 12 goals (which is one more than Manchester United have scored in the competition this season). With their dynamic offense, as well as a defense that seems to be rounding into form, Barcelona look like they’re poised to add another European Trophy to their resume.
Who will win between these two historic powerhouses? Will Barcelona continue on their seemingly inexorable path to the Finals? Or will Bayern pull off the upset?