Bayern gears up for Barcelona

Bayern gears up for Barcelona

MUNICH - Agence France-Presse
Bayern gears up for Barcelona

Bayern is bidding to reach its third Champions League final in four years, but Spanish champion-elect Barcelona blocks the path to Wembley. AFP photo

Bayern Munich faces the litmus test in its bid to become the first German team to win the treble of European, league and cup titles when it hosts Spanish giants Barcelona in tonight’s Champions League semifinal first leg.

Having swept aside all rivals to win this season’s Bundesliga title, Bayern is bidding to reach its third Champions League final in four years, but Spanish champion-elect Barcelona blocks the path to Wembley.

Bayern warmed-up for the showdown at Munich’s Allianz Arena with a 6-1 win at Hanover 96 on April 20, the same scoreline by which it routed Wolfsburg in German Cup semifinal on April 17.

Coach Jupp Heynckes dropped a hint for tonight by incorporating both strikers Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro into a 4-4-2 formation, rather than Bayern’s usual 4-2-3-1 line-up.

Striker Gomez on top form

With first-choice forward Mario Mandzukic suspended, Gomez has staked a strong case to face Barcelona with a hat-trick in six minutes against Wolfsburg, then two goals in Hanover.

Likewise Pizarro set up both Gomez’s goals at Hanover while scoring two of his own, and with an eye on Barcelona the 34-year-old boldly declared: “We’re better, we have more quality in our squad.”

 Arsenal has proved Bayern is far from unbeatable in Munich with a 2-0 win as the Gunners lost the last 16 tie on away goals after the Germans’ 3-1 victory in London, but the host has belief in abundance.

 “We are confident and we are assuming we will go through,” said Bayern’s director of sport Matthias Sammer, as the Bavarians claimed three more Bundesliga records at Hanover.

But Barcelona will be a significant step up from what Bayern has faced recently in the German league and it warmed up with Cesc Fabregas sealing a 1-0 win against Levante on April 20 to keep the team 13 points clear at the top of the Spanish league.

Star midfielder Lionel Messi has not played since coming off the bench in the second-leg of Barça’s quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain on April 10, but is expected to start against Bayern tonight.

‘Battle royal’ in Bavaria

Barcelona travels to Munich in the unusual position of not being overwhelming favorites and midfielder Xavi said he expects a battle royal in Bavaria.

“Tuesday will be brutal,” said the 33-year-old Spain star.

“Munich is a city which lives for football.

“It’s true FC Bayern are presently in stratospheric form, but Champions League games are often decided by nuances.

“We’ll give everything we have to get a good result in Munich.”

Bayern has no excuses for underestimating Barcelona after its 4-0 thumping at the Camp Nou stadium in the 2009 Champions League quarterfinals, when Messi netted twice as Barça went on to win the title.

The host led 4-0 at half-time to leave Bayern shell-shocked and the defeat signalled the end of ex-Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s pitifully short 10-month tenure as Munich trainer.

Host side needs a good result

But Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes knows his side can ill-afford to focus on Barcelona’s individual players and need a good result in Munich before the return leg in Spain on May 1.

“Barcelona aren’t just about Messi, they have plenty of great players. Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa - the list goes on,” said the Bayern boss.

But Bayern has its own stars and the manner in which the club wrapped up the Bundesliga title with a record six games to spare commands respect.

“It will be a big challenge,” admitted Barcelona technical director Andoni Zubizarreta.

“We will focus on what we know and what we can do, and how much we let them play.”