Barcelona will call on the extraordinary capacity for high-scoring victories tonight in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich – while doing their best to forget the defensive frailties that allowed the Germans a 4-0 victory in the first leg.
In the 301 games since Pep Gaurdiola took charge in 2008, with current coach, Tito Vilanova, alongside him in the dugout, Barca have won 84 matches by four goals or more.
“They are still the best in the world and if anyone is capable of the turnaround then it’s them,” said Bayern’s coach, Jupp Heynckes, yesterday. But he warned that the German champions will not be traveling to Spain to defend.
Fourteen of those 84 thrashings Barcelona have handed out have come in the Champions League, and one was against Bayern in April 2009. “The only team that can come back from 4-0 down against Bayern is this Barca team,” said Gerard Pique last night.
But the depressing through for the Spanish side is that in the home legs of their last five Champions League semi-finals they have scored only four times, and there has been a big change in personnel since that convincing win four years ago.
Bayern’s team tonight will have just two survivors from that defeat, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
For me, Lionel Messi is the key for Barcelona’s chances this evening. Barcelona’s number 10 has scored as many as five goals in one European game – last year against Bayern Leverkusen – so once again the responsibility will fall on his shoulders.
Jordi Alba is suspended having picked up his third yellow card of the tournament in the reverse fixture, and he is likely to be replaced by Adriano, who returns from a ban.
Tito Vilanova would have liked to keep Messi fresh ahead of Wednesday’s game but was forced to introduce the Argentine with the side trailing to Bilbao at the weekend. It took Messi just 8 minutes to score from the bench but Barca could only draw the game.
Cesc Fabregas, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro compete for two places in the starting XI, with the former’s inclusion potentially pushing Iniesta forward into the front three.
Mario Mandzukic is back available following a suspension and he will compete for the lone striker position with Mario Gomez, who scored in the reverse fixture last week.
Heynckes rested almost his entire first team XI at the weekend, with even keeper Manuel Neuer dropped to the bench, so wholesale changes will be made in midweek.
As many as six Bayern players are one booking away from missing the final at Wembley, with some key players amongst them (Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Martinez, Dante, Gomez and Gustavo).
Barca need at least four goals, this will be a tough ask against a team that have only conceded twice in their last four Champions League away games. The Spaniards have looked weak in defence this campaign and in my opinion they are too reliant on Lionel Messi. They’ll look a different side tonight in front of their home support, however I can’t see them turning this fixture around.