Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona: Key Battles to Watch in Champions League Semifinal
Perhaps the two best teams in the world will face off with their contrasting styles and dominating performances both domestically and in Europe.
Bayern Munich has already mathematically clinched the Bundesliga title, while Barcelona has realistically won it with a 13-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid.
It's worth noting that in six total matches against Bayern, Barcelona has managed one win, two draws and three losses.
However, times are different, as this Barcelona has created a dynasty and will look to win their fourth Champions League title since the 2005 season.
Here are five key battles to watch out for in this clash between European giants.
Lionel Messi vs. Javi Martinez
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Spanish defensive midfielder Javi Martinez knows Lionel Messi well from his days at Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. He'll have his work cut out for him trying to stop La Pulga in his false nine position.
Martinez is a key part of the Bayern Munich midfield, combining a physical force with vision and poise while in possession. On the other side, it remains to be seen whether the Argentine phenom will be fully healthy after recently going through an injury scare.
Pep Guardiola's Knowledge of Barcelona
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While Pep Guardiola won't join Bayern Munich until the summer, it's fascinating to wonder about the possibility of him feeding Jupp Heynckes a fool-proof plan to take down the dynasty he virtually created.
Although it's a conspiracy theory of the highest order, it remains an interesting dilemma behind closed doors.
No person on earth knows how to stop Barcelona better than the man who was there for most of their triumph.
Bayern Munich's Wingers Against Barcelona's Full-Backs
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The Bayern wide players terrorized Juventus in both legs. They were an integral part of the 4-0 aggregate drubbing of the Italian giants. Juventus' 3-5-2 formation, with only one player patrolling the flanks, simply couldn't handle the fury of the German wingers.
Dani Alves will be busy handling the duo of Franck Ribery and David Alaba, while Jordi Alba needs to contain the formidable duo of Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm.
The German side can quell the onrushing Barcelona full-backs by providing a steady stream of action to both wingers, exposing the defensive frailties of both Alves and Alba.
Manuel Neuer Against the Jaws of Hell
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Perhaps no metaphor is too outlandish to describe the Barcelona attack, and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will grow accustomed to a steady stream of shots being flung in his direction during both legs.
Neuer is up to the task, though. He has cemented his place with both club and country. His cat-like reflexes and positioning is world class, and he can single-handedly change the result of a game with one of his stellar saves between the pipes.
Opposing Philosophies Collide
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Barcelona and Bayern Munich couldn't be any more different tactically.
The Germans employ a 4-2-3-1 formation reminiscent of Jose Mourinho's Inter which won the Champions League in 2010. They have a well-balanced starting XI, with plenty of physique and flair up front. Bayern can hold possession just as well as they can break on the counter, exploiting pace on the wings.
Unlike Barcelona, Bayern always have a true target striker spearheading the formation. Even though revelation Mario Mandzukic is suspended for the first leg, Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro are available and both offer a similar threat in the box.