Tito Vilanova takes his Barcelona team to Germany on Tuesday night hoping to take another step towards their third Champions League triumph in five years. A small matter of an absolutely fantastic Bayern Munich side stand in their way however, and this game promises to be the first of two clashes between genuine European titans.
Both teams have their respective leagues sown up (Barcelona may not have made it official yet, but they are essentially champions) and their full focus will be on European triumph.
When I look across this Bayern Munich team, I struggle to find weaknesses anywhere on the field. A team with such quality, they are more than solid from their back five through the holding midfielders up to the front four that have beguiled so many sides both domestically (where they have conceded just 14 goals on their way to opening up a 20 point lead at the top) and in Europe.
Barcelona are undoubtedly potent going forward - any team that can notch up 99 goals in 32 league games has to be feared, but an argument can be made for Barcelona being much weaker at the back than they are in the vanguard; Carles Puyol struggles more and more for fitness these days and will miss both legs of this tie. Javier Mascherano is also out of the first leg with injury and that could prove telling against a team of Bayern's quality up front.
Also, while Bayern brushed Italian champions Juventus aside with relative ease, Barcelona struggled against upstarts Paris St Germain, eventually sneaking through on away goals after a Hail Mary-style tactical substitution of introducing a half-fit Lionel Messi into the action, something that seemed to simultaneously lift his teammates as well as striking fear into the hearts of his opponents. Messi is likely to be fit for this occasion and will of course be a concern to the German giants. It's simple - on his day, when he is in the mood, he is unstoppable against any team in the world.
But, if any team can deal with him, I believe it's Bayern. They're strong at the back, and also well represented in that holding midfield area with Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger occupying the space where Messi likes to drop deep. He also won't scare Bayern like he did PSG; Heynckes' men are too professional and too experienced to worry about that.
I've been really impressed with Bayern Munich whenever I've seen them, with one exception: their home leg against Arsenal in which they weren't really at the races. It was a strange performance, but I think it will stand them in good stead against Barca; they've had a scare and now know that anything less than a top performance level will see them exit the competition. The fact that they were narrowly beaten last season in the final in their own backyard will also help to focus the mind at the business end of the tournament; those types of defeats are painful and every player that experienced it will be anxious not to go through it again.
Barcelona are currently 3.55 to win the tie, something that has to be considered. Put simply, Barcelona at that price against anyone represents huge value and I wouldn't begrudge anyone putting some of their hard-earned on that outcome. Vilanova's men are unstoppable on their day. But I like Bayern Munich to win the tie at home, and 2.265/4 seems a reasonable price to me. I also don't think they'll be many goals in the game. For all Bayern's quality they'll be mindful of conceding an away goal knowing they still have to visit the Camp Nou and that will likely make it a bit nip and tuck. Under 2.5 Goals looks a fair price at 2.01/1.
Back Bayern Munich to win at 2.265/4
Back Under 2.5 Goals at 2.01/1