Cyprus Mail
Champions League

Barca attack on fire, defence yet to dispel doubts

Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola returns to former club Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals

By Iain Rogers

While there may still be a question mark over treble-chasing Barcelona’s defence, their fearsome attacking trident is firing on all cylinders ahead of Bayern Munich’s visit in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday (9.45pm).

The South American trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez reached a scorching 108 goals for the season following the La Liga leaders’ 8-0 destruction of Cordoba on Saturday, eight more than the previous club record set by Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry when Barca won the treble in 2009.

Argentina captain Messi is on 51 goals in all competitions, Uruguay striker Suarez, whose ban for biting an opponent at last year’s World Cup finals expired at the end of October, has 24, and Brazil forward Neymar 33.

With a defence that has looked shaky at times this season, however, Barca’s hopes of reaching next month’s Champions League final at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium may hinge on them scoring more goals than they inevitably concede.

The Catalan giants have most of the same personnel at the back, including the likes of Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Marc Bartra, as when they crashed to a humiliating 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern in the last four of Europe’s elite club competition two years ago.

The rampant German champions won the first leg in Munich 4-0 and the return 3-0, the heaviest two-legged European defeat in Barca’s history, and Bayern went on to beat Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund in the first all-German final.

“It was a fantastic experience, we played brilliantly and astonished the football world,” forward Thomas Mueller said on Bayern’s website (www.fcbayern.de).
“We know their strengths and above all they have world-class players up front,” added the Germany international.
“As a defender, to try to stop one of Messi’s dribbles is not the most comfortable experience.”

Both clubs have changed coaches since 2012-13, with Luis Enrique in charge at Barca in place of Tito Vilanova, who succumbed to cancer last year, and former Barca player and coach Pep Guardiola at the Bayern helm.

“We are armed and ready,” Mueller said. “The coach knows this team better than any other. He’ll give us a game plan, but the rest is up to us players.”
Four-time winners Barca are seeking their eighth final appearance and five-time champions Bayern, who host the return leg the following Tuesday, their 11th.


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