Two of the giants of European football meet on Wednesday night as Barcelona host Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in the Champions League semi-final first leg. The tie promises to be an explosive one with so many sub-plots.
One of those sub plots is the return of former-Barcelona legend Pep Guardiola to Catalonia.
The 44-year-old enjoyed a trophy-laden four years as head coach of the Catalan giants, which saw him win three La Liga titles and claim the Champions League on two occasions, among other silverware.
Not only did Guardiola win trophies, he won acclaim as his team is considered by many to be the best club team to have ever played the game.
The style, the ethos and the pattern of play drew the attention of many clubs owners, who wanted their teams to play like Barcelona.
In truth Barcelona’s success could never truly be replicated by another club or team and even with Pep in the dugout that style is difficult to replicate.
Guardiola is still regarded as a Barcelona hero and will no doubt receive a very warm welcome on his return to the Nou Camp, until the game kicks-off of course.
This will be the first time Guardiola will face Barcelona as an opposition boss and he will come-up against old friend Luis Enrique, who he played alongside at both club and international level.
Revenge is in the air in the Barcelona camp. Bayern hammered Barcelona 7-0 at the semi-final stage back in 2013. Guardiola was the boss in the Catalan camp in 2013 and Lionel Messi and co. seem determined to avenge that humiliation.
The fact that the German side could come to the Nou Camp and so easily dispense with Barcelona was simply unbelievable. The Bavarians went on to win the trophy with a 2-1 victory over arch-rivals Dortmund in the final.
The defeat remains Barcelona’s biggest ever European defeat and no doubt the players involved in that loss will be keen to exact revenge on the German giants.
The Barcelona dream strike-force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar has been unstoppable this season, after making a relatively slow start to the campaign.
The trio have scored 109 goals in all competitions between them and in recent weeks have looked simply irresistible. Bayern boss Guardiola has even stated that he believes that Messi on current form is unstoppable.
The Bayern defence showed weakness in the quarter-finals against FC Porto and cannot afford to do the same against the Catalan giants, or they could be in for a very bad trip to Catalonia.
The German champions will however be buoyed by their comeback against Portuguese side Porto in the last round. It looked like the Bavarians may be set to exit the competition when they suffered a 3-1 defeat in the first leg in Portugal.
The second leg was a completely different story though, as Guardiola’s side produced a fantastic first half display to go in at the break five goals up. The comeback victory could just be the thing to inspire Bayern to yet another Champions League final appearance.
The German giants have a number of players missing heading into this clash, including star wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who are joined on the sidelines through injury by David Alaba and Holger Badstuber.
Top scorer Robert Lewandowski will have to wear a protective mask on his face, after fracturing his cheek and nose in Tuesday’s cup game against arch-rivals Dortmund.
Those absentees for Bayern could prove the deciding factor in this clash, as their Spanish opponents are currently in top form.
Barcelona are favourites, but even with some of their big players missing Bayern will be a tough opponent for the Catalan side. This is a tie that could go either way, but with the goalscoring form that Barcelona are currently in it would be difficult to back against them progressing into the final.
Who will come out on top between Bayern Munich and Barcelona?
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