Barcelona vs. Bayern: Why Xavi vs. Schweinsteiger Will Define the Battle

Jason PettigroveContributor IApril 30, 2013

Xavi—Best Performing Player in This Season's Champions League
Xavi—Best Performing Player in This Season's Champions LeagueShaun Botterill/Getty Images

The footballing world have already made their collective minds up. It's an all-German affair in the 2013 Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium.

A little bit premature isn't it? There's still 90 minutes of football to be played and as we know in football anything can and often does happen.

True, Spanish football per se and Barcelona themselves took a right old battering at the hands of the "Der Kaiser's" offspring.

The "all whites" of Real Madrid fared little better at the Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund. However, sounding the death knell for Spanish football is a little ill-judged in my opinion. 

There are 99,000 cules that lie in wait at Camp Nou, dreaming of another "remuntada" (comeback), a feat they have achieved eight times in 12 Champions League matches after losing the first leg.

A majority will give Barcelona no chance of progressing in the competition, but would you be brave enough to bet against La Blaugrana's wounded lions? Do you honestly believe that Barcelona will play as poorly as a collective again, so soon after the last humiliation?

Whilst Bayern Munich certainly have the credentials to ensure safe passage to London, this is ignoring the fact that Barca have the form player in the competition to propel them to one of their greatest-ever victories.

Although he was kept very quiet via the industry of Bastian Schweinsteiger at the Allianz Arena last week, Xavi Hernandez still managed to complete an astonishing 93 percent of his passes, surpassed only by Schweinsteiger's 94 percent.

Like a Germanic Gollum mesmerised by his "precious," Bayern's midfield general was all over Xavi all game. 

"Stop Xavi and you stop Barcelona" is a simple enough edict. Yet so many have tried and failed to keep Spanish football's finest-ever midfielder under lock and key for 90 minutes.

Schweinsteiger managed it with aplomb last week and will need more of the same to ensure the Germans progress.

If you analyse Barcelona's forward play in this or any other season in the last decade, one thing stands out above all others, and that is the huge influence Xavi has during the course of the game.

Make no mistake, Barcelona dance to his tune. The tempo and pace of a game is largely dictated by the diminutive Catalan pied piper.

For Schweinsteiger to be able to put Jupp Heynckes' master plan into practice required a technical performance so complete so as to render Xavi's influential role defunct.

The fact he was able to achieve it says much about the his own and the Germanic philosophy.

On the wider Camp Nou pitch however, Xavi will have much more room within which to do his work and I also expect him to play much further up the pitch than he did in Germany.

You can be sure Barcelona will stretch the play as much as possible to try and move players out of their natural area of patrol and thus open up the gaps that were missing during the first leg.

Schweinsteiger's conundrum is whether he is able to contain Xavi for a second time on a larger pitch, or allow Javi Martinez the luxury of a toe-to-toe duel with his Spanish national teammate. 

By contrast, Barcelona as a unit will be aware of the swift Bayern counters, which you can mortgage your house on Schweinsteiger being an intregal part of. 

For me, the visitors have to take the game to their opponents once again if they are to have any dreams of glory in London.

Arjen Robben is likely to be a focal point in this game also. Jordi Alba needlessly ruled himself out of this tie after an altercation with the Dutchman, and the former Real Madrid player would like nothing more than putting one over on his old rivals in their old backyard.

Defensive cover for Barcelona is at a premium—more so than last week—and therefore Tito Vilanova must select wisely from his pool of talented individuals.

Can Eric Abidal quell the able Robben from incisive attacking forays and last a full 90 minutes? Is Martin Montoya the answer? Can Carles Puyol give the tie an entirely different complexion by returning to marshall the troops? 

Should Xavi get an early and decisive foothold in this match, don't be at all surprised at the sight of a Catalan phoenix rising from the flames.

Game on.