Lionel Messi will likely return for his first game in over three weeks when Barcelona take on Bayern Munich in their Champions League semifinal this week.
The star striker has been nursing a hamstring injury that he sustained against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their quarterfinal win.
And whilst he did come off the bench to steer the Catalan side to an aggregate victory in the second leg, Messi has been rested ever since that date so that he would be completely healthy for their game against Bayern Munich.
For having watched the German giants breeze their way through teams this season, there's no doubt that La Blaugrana need Messi to be 100 percent healthy.
Bayern disposed of Juventus over two legs in dominant fashion; they chalked up an insurmountable lead against Arsenal before that, and they have been simply unstoppable throughout the German Bundesliga this season—especially when it comes to their gritty defense.
As much as the Bavarians have been an attacking powerhouse this year, which they most certainly have, it's been their defense that's been most impressive.
And it will be their defense that Messi must better when he lines up for La Blaugrana this week—something that he'll definitely have confidence doing following his remarkable season so far, but something he'll definitely need assistance with throughout the two legs.
Like it was against AC Milan, that responsibility will fall to David Villa.
If Messi and Villa can re-establish their connection that saw them chalk up an impressive come-from-behind victory against AC Milan earlier in the Champions League, then Barca will be in a strong position to challenge Bayern's gritty defense.
Villa's presence at the top of the attack creates space for Messi to operate in behind. As the pictures below highlight, Villa sets a high line (which forces the defenders to sit further back than usual), which then in turns creates additional space between the midfield and defense.
Both from a tactical standpoint (first image) and from proven success (second image), the combination of Messi and Villa at the top of the Catalan attack makes sense. Villa creates space, and given that Messi is the last person that you want to give any sort of space to, the Spaniard's presence is a key advantage for La Blaugrana going forward.
The biggest problem, it seems, will be as to how the pair operate playing together, having not started in the same team since Messi's injury three weeks ago. The numbers on the success that Messi and Barcelona have—individually and collectively—when the pair play up front are astounding, but there must be some question marks surrounding that given they aren't on the same wavelength.
Not yet, anyway.
Both players have played together often enough that they will soon regain their connection, and that can only mean big things for La Blaugrana.
Bayern's defense is compact, sound and technically skillful, but so too is Barcelona's attack—especially when Villa and Messi are at the helm.
It's going to be one spectacular Champions League semifinal indeed.
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