Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Friday 14 August, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Can magical Messi paper over the cracks?
It says a lot about peerless Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi that his magnificent goal against Napoli in the last 16 probably wouldn't feature in his top 50 goals, and might not even make his top hundred. Picking the ball up in the inside-right channel, he ghosted past two Napoli players, lost his footing just inside the box, got up and then as he was off-balance delivered an unstoppable shot that went just inside the far post. Although there wasn't the usual roar of adulation and disbelief from the Camp Nou faithful, it was a very familiar experience for anyone who has watched the diminutive Argentinean unleash his football sorcery.
Messi is desperate to win the Champions League for a fifth time, and his influence is perhaps more important than ever, with obvious issues elsewhere in the team. Defensively, Barca look suspect - they gave up a golden opportunity to Napoli's Dries Mertens right at the start of the second leg, only for the Belgian to screw a volley onto a post. Barca have kept just two clean sheets in this season's Champions League, and in La Liga their frailties caught up with them. They conceded twice in costly 2-2 draws against Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid, and did the same in a 2-1 home defeat against Osasuna.
Coach Quique Setien doesn't seem to have the full confidence of his players (there have been vociferous half-time and full-time inquests in the dressing room) and I still fully believe the club was wrong to ditch his predecessor Ernesto Valverde. There are issues higher up too - beleaguered president Josep Maria Bartomeu and sporting director Eric Abidal have both upset Messi this term with their handling of Valverde's dismissal and the club's fiscal response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
There is at least some good news. Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets are back from suspension, and the return from injury of Luis Suarez a few weeks ago has been timely. The Uruguayan warrior has scored in five of his last eight appearances.
Relentless Bayern have put down a marker
On their way to winning the treble of Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League in 2013, Bayern brutally took Barcelona apart in the semi-finals, beating them 4-0 and 3-0. Players like Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Thomas Müller featured in that tie, and one wonders whether they feel as confident now as they did back then. Perhaps they are even more sure of themselves, after the Bavarian juggernaut put together an 18-match winning run.
That red machine chewed up Chelsea last week, adding a 4-1 second-leg success to a 3-0 demolition at Stamford Bridge. Robert Lewandowski scored twice, and now has a Champions League tally of 13 goals to add to his Bundesliga-best mark of 34. The Polish international is 1.011/100 to end up as the competition's top scorer. Left-back Alphonso Davies produced another turbo-charged display, and the balance of midfield wasn't upset by Joshua Kimmich's move to right-back to cover for the injured Benjamin Pavard. In his stead, Thiago produced a midfield masterclass, an artist's display of grace and skill.
Kingsley Coman is still struggling with injury, so Ivan Perisic will probably play down the left, although the on-loan Philippe Coutinho is free to face his parent club. Bayern could name an unchanged line-up from the one that beat Chelsea.
Bayern to overpower Barcelona again
I think there are plenty of echoes of 2013 in the current Bayern team, and they are actually a value bet at 2.0421/20 to win inside 90 minutes. Barcelona are playing without a coherent plan under Setien, and they are too reliant on the individual brilliance of Messi. Of course, the world's best player could produce one of his unstoppable displays, but Bayern's outstanding coach Hansi Flick will have a plan to restrict his influence, and Bayern's intensity without the ball since Flick replaced Niko Kovac has been remarkable.
I don't think Barca will be able to contain Bayern, and I can see why Over 2.5 Goals is trading at 1.68/13 here. You could perhaps back Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score using the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi at 1.768/11 - Bayern have only kept two clean sheets in their last eight games.
No need to overlook the obvious
In my Bayern v Chelsea preview I suggested it was worth backing Lewandowski to score twice or more at 21/10, and ahead of this game he seems value to score just the one goal or more at 4/5. For a player who has found the net in 19 of his last 22 games, including the last eight, that seems like value.
Messi is odds-against at 11/10, and that seems too big a price too. He takes the penalties and free-kicks, and has scored 31 goals in all competitions.