Bayern Munich centre-back Jerome Boateng believes defenders must be prepared to face the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar head-on otherwise "they destroy you."
The German defender is currently sidelined through injury but was famously left on his backside as Messi twisted and turned his way to goal last season in the Champions League semi-final between Bayern and Barcelona:
Boateng has clearly learned from that chastening experience, and he has warned against showing any fear when facing Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar or Luis Suarez, as players of such quality can "smell" it, per The Players' Tribune:
With Ronaldo or Messi, whatever option you choose is difficult if they come at you with open space. They’re just so fast. Neymar and Messi are low to the ground and can turn quickly, so it’s difficult for defenders like me, who are tall centre-backs (I’m 6-foot-3). Ronaldo, he’s got the height, but he’s also got incredible speed, strength and a good header.
You can’t be lazy or caught on your heels with those players, because they will win and they will score. They are just too good for you to make even a little mistake. More than speed or technique though, as a defender you need confidence. Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, Neymar—they can all smell if you’re afraid to duel with them. One whiff and then they destroy you. So you gotta show up.
Boateng, 27, has not been allowed to forget his run-in with Messi; he was mercilessly mocked by the internet in the aftermath, and again when the ensuing goal was voted the tournament's best, per Bleacher Report UK:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Leo #Messi stunner vs. Bayern named best #UCL goal for 2014/2015. Sorry to remind you Jerome http://t.co/CA6ABTsInR https://t.co/FygNmlY93h2015-8-27 14:55:09
However, it is a mark of just how good Messi is—and how difficult he is to defend against—that he could tie such a player as Boateng in knots.
The Germany international is rightly regarded as one of the best defenders in Europe and was shortlisted for 2015's FIFA/FIFPro World XI despite his humiliation against the Argentinian.
The Ballon d'Or winner was up to his old tricks again on Tuesday as he scored twice late on to down Arsenal in their Champions League last-16 first leg at the Emirates Stadium, with the first goal illustrating just how difficult it is to stop Messi, Neymar and Suarez in full flow, per BT Sport Football:
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
.@LuisSuarez9 to @neymarjr to Messi! The Argentine finishes off a swift counter as @FCBarcelona beat #AFC. ⚽️ #UCL https://t.co/LOVihUMCmK2016-2-24 07:30:07
Boateng's Bayern fell victim to the attacking stylings of Juventus in their first-round clash in Turin as they let a two-goal lead slip and eventually drew 2-2.
However, Pep Guardiola's side are still very much the favourites to advance from the tie and march on to the last eight after the second leg at the Allianz Arena.
But they will have to do it without Boateng, who has not played since the end of January because of a groin injury, and he is not expected back until April, per the official Bayern website.
He could theoretically be back in time for the Champions League quarter-finals—should Bayern make it—where he could well face up to Messi's Barca again, or perhaps Ronaldo's Real Madrid.
If Bayern are to go all the way in the tournament this season in Guardiola's last term in charge, they will likely have to face up to one of the Spanish giants, and Boateng's chastening experience from last season should stand him in good stead if—or when—it happens.