UEFA Champions League Semifinal: Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona Key Clashes
The UEFA Champions League moves into its final stages this week as the semifinal first legs take place, with the fixture between Bayern Munich and Barcelona in particular giving some intriguing head-to-head battles on the pitch.
Bayern reached the final last year, only to be defeated on penalties, while Barcelona are looking for their third title since 2009. A Germany vs. Spain clash is mirrored in the other semifinal, where Borussia Dortmund face Real Madrid.
Bayern vs. Barça promises to be a hugely exciting and entertaining encounter, and it could well be the key individual battles which determine who takes a lead from the first leg.
Here are the key clashes to look forward to in Germany this week.
Thomas Muller vs. Sergio Busquets
With Toni Kroos set to miss the remainder of the campaign through injury, Bayern will likely shift wide attacker Thomas Müller into a more central attacking midfield role.
Müller is a key component of the Bavarian side's attack, linking play in the final third and providing constant ammunition for the forwards, as well as being a huge goal threat himself. Playing centrally, he will be expected to be even more involved in the final third, especially getting on the end of moves in the penalty area.
In general open play, he will come up against Barcelona's Sergio Busquets as the deepest-lying midfielder; Sergio both starts plenty of his teams attacking moves and also constantly makes himself available to recycle possession. Hard work from the German could limit Sergio's influence in the game and restrict the on-the-ball options that Barcelona have.
Dante vs. Leo Messi
Barcelona hope to have Leo Messi back for their first leg match against Bayern Munich, with the Argentine attacker struggling to shake off injury.
Should the No. 10 not make the match, Cesc Fabregas—who scored a match-winning goal at the weekend—should continue in his place.
Messi has hit eight goals so far during this Champions League campaign, Barcelona's top scorer by some distance, and his mere presence on the pitch will be a massive boost to the team, as evidenced in the last round against PSG.
He will be up against the likes of Dante, who has impressed so much at the heart of the Bayern defence this season which has become one of the meanest in Europe. Dante has shown good athleticism, reading of the game and an ability to make clean challenges, all of which will be vital in trying to stop Messi.
And all of which might not quite be enough anyway if Messi is fit and on form.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Xavi
In the centre of the park will rage a key battle for possession, pressure and creativity, with Barcelona's Xavi up against Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger. The two experienced internationals are amongst the finest players in Europe in their position, with both players possessing not only peerless technical attributes but also a cast-iron will-to-win mentality.
Whoever out of these two is the most effective, on and off the ball, will doubtless go some distance toward showing which team creates the better chances.
Neither will exactly be favourite to open the scoring, but don't bet against them being heavily involved in the creation stages whenever a goal does go in.
David Alaba vs. Pedro
Finally, the two flanks will provide exciting battles on both sides, with perhaps the Bayern left/Barça right the slightly more interesting from a tactical viewpoint.
Pedro will likely start on the right side of his team's attack, but rarely hugs the wing for long; instead he will look to break infield and link up with his fellow attackers down the channels, as well as making his customary darting vertical runs between full- and centre-backs.
David Alaba is an offensive full-back, but he will have plenty of defensive duties to perform on the night too. On the counter and in transition phases, though, he can also be one of Bayern's key players with his superb acceleration and, as he has shown of late for club and country, his goal threat.
One mistake, one failure to track the opposite number's run from either of these two players, and there is a pretty good chance that a goal-scoring chance will be the end result.