Barcelona will make the tough trip to Germany this week as they square off in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
The probable Spanish champions will welcome back star striker Lionel Messi for the all-important clash as they race for European glory, but will face a very tough test in Bayern, who comfortably disposed of Juventus in their recent quarterfinal matchup.
The German giants have already clinched the Bundesliga title this season and will have their eyes on a potential treble if they can get past the Catalan club.
However, that certainly won't come easy in this one, as Barca are one of the top clubs in world football over the past few years for a reason.
Even away from home, they'll be an attacking threat throughout and have more than enough skill on hand to topple the home side's defense.
Which world football heavyweight will emerge triumphant from the first leg of their must-watch Champions League quarterfinal?
Read on for a full preview of the match including all the key details, live viewing information, analysis and predictions.
Date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Start time: 2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Live Stream and TV Information
According to Live Soccer TV, SiriusXM FC, TV3 Catalunya, Fox Soccer Channel and FOX Deportes will all provide coverage of the match.
A live stream is available through Fox Soccer 2Go (United States).
2012-13 Champions League so Far
|Bayern Munich||FC Barcelona|
|Group Stage|| |
W4, L1, D1
(15 goals for, seven against)
W4, D1, L1
(11 goals for, five against)
|Round of 16|| |
W1, D0, L1 vs. Arsenal
(Three goals for, three against)
W1, D0, L1 vs. AC Milan
(Four goals for, two against)
W2, D0, L0 vs. Juventus
(Four goals for, zero against)
W0, D2, L0 vs. PSG
(Three goals for, three against)
Key Player to Watch: Xavi, CM, Barcelona
With a number of brilliant attacking options on show in this one, it might seem strange to consider Barcelona's central midfielder Xavi as the key player.
However, given the way that Bayern will likely set up in this one, Xavi's importance could not be greater for La Blaugrana—both in stopping the Germans' attack at one end and creating chances for Andres Iniesta and Messi at the other.
Xavi has been superb this season as per usual, but he'll face a big test in Bayern's midfield. The Bavarians are very strong right across the pitch and have great talent in both attack and defense, which will stretch the Spanish international throughout this one.
If Xavi can hold his own against Bayern's defense and then find space in midfield to feed the players ahead of him—keeping Barca's shape in midfield—then the away side will have a real chance at success in this one.
Match-Defining Battle: Lionel Messi vs. Bayern Munich's Defense
As talented as both of those players are, however, the matchup that will define this match is surely that of Lionel Messi against Bayern's defense.
Much has been made of the German's incredible defensive record this season (conceding just 14 goals in the Bundesliga so far) and just eight in Europe, with clean sheets in their last three Champions league games.
Simply put, they have been tremendous defensively and have built the platform for Bayern's attack to give them plenty of wins this season, but they'll face arguably their biggest threat when they welcome La Blaugrana and Lionel Messi to the Allianz Arena.
If it's possible, Messi has been in even better form this year than he was last year, and will look to continue his goalscoring ways when he lines up here.
His presence in Barca's attack was clearly missed in both legs against PSG, and as long as he's healthy, will be a huge threat for Bayern to deal with—which, as we've seen, is much easier to say than actually do.
Messi is an attacking genius and can finish from even the most unlikely of circumstances. If Barca are going to take a lead away from Germany, you can guarantee it will be as a result of Messi—who the German side will be desperate to try and shut out here like AC Milan did before.
Whoever wins this battle will win the match. It's as simple as that.
Three Stats to Consider
6. Barcelona have made the semifinals in their last six Champions League campaigns (a record in the history of the competition). However, they have only managed to win one of their six previous games against Bayern Munich (two draws, three losses).
12. Bayern Munich have not kept a clean sheet in their last 12 Champions League games at home against Spanish opposition. However, they have scored in every single one of those games as well, with 25 goals recorded in 13 games.
1. Barcelona have only won one of their last five Champions League games (three draws, one defeat). They've also only won three of their last 15 away games in the Champions League knockout stages.
There's little doubting that Barcelona have the attacking talent to hurt Bayern Munich. There's also little doubting that Bayern themselves have the attacking talent required to beat Barca, which will make this one a truly fascinating encounter to watch.
Bayern's defense has been world class this season, and it's meant that the Germans haven't had to play too many games from behind throughout the year. Barcelona, on the other hand, have done that a lot lately, which could give them an advantage over their opponents in that they are used to chasing a game.
Still, having said that, it's hard to see Bayern being beaten on their home ground—leaving the biggest question as to how the two attacks will fare.
I think we'll see few chances on the night, with the compact style of Barcelona neutralizing the counterattacking style of Bayern. I also think Bayern's gritty and organized defense will measure up well to the tika-taka style of La Blaugrana.
In the end, I think Barcelona have enough to snare an away draw here, and set us up for a truly mouthwatering fixture next week at the Nou Camp.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 1, Barcelona 1
Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: Follow @dantalintyre