Bayern Munich v Barcelona
Tuesday May 12, 19:45
Live on ITV 1
Bayern’s crushing 3-0 defeat at the Camp Nou looks likely to end their Champions League hopes at the semi-final stage for the second season running, and while another failure in Europe will spark speculation about Pep Guardiola’s future in Bavaria, there are still reasons for the kings of Germany to avoid the panic button. Talk of Guardiola’s supposed pre-contract agreement with Manchester City is utter nonsense, and there is no indication from Bayern that they wish to part with the Catalan before his contract expires next year.
While last season’s semi-final collapse against Real Madrid owed much to a tactical failure on Guardiola’s part, last week’s defeat to Barca was down to the relentless brilliance of the hosts. After being too bold in the opening 15 minutes, Guardiola adjusted his tactics sensibly, and it’s easy to forget the game was scoreless after 77 minutes. A rare mistake from Juan Bernat led to Lionel Messi’s opener, a piece of sheer genius led to Messi’s second, and a desperate need to grab an away goal was responsible for Neymar’s late third.
Bayern now need a comeback in the same vein as the one they pulled off against Porto in the quarter-finals. Having lost the first leg 3-1 at the Dragao, they overwhelmed their opponents 6-1 in the reverse fixture. It’s a gigantic ask, but when considering whether it can be achieved (Bayern are 25.0 in the To Qualify market), I would advise dismissing Bayern’s recent domestic problems. They have lost their last two Bundesliga fixtures, but they fielded a weakened side at Bayer Leverkusen, and had Pepe Reina sent off after just 13 minutes of Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Augsburg.
For once, Bayern have no fresh injury concerns, and Sebastian Rode could return to the midfield. Key players Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Franck Ribery are all still out.
Last week’s win felt like a statement, not just by Barcelona, but by their talisman Lionel Messi. His old rival Cristiano Ronaldo took the limelight last season as Real Madrid finally clinched La Decima, their long-awaited tenth European Cup. Messi has wrenched that adulation back, and his ability to make the barely believable seem routine is propelling his beloved Barca towards glory on all fronts.
The Blaugrana extended their lead over Real to four points at the top of La Liga at the weekend, and legal wrangles notwithstanding, a Copa del Rey final awaits against Athletic Bilbao. Messi’s career is awash with trophies, but this season could shine brighter than most.
In the last 16 and quarter-finals, Barca won the away leg comfortably against both Manchester City and PSG, before cruising through both home legs to seal the deal. This is different. Barca know their old friend Pep Guardiola will come for them with all he has, but they are also aware that a single away goal takes the tie out of reach. No-one has stopped the Catalan standard-bearers from scoring in this season’s Champions League, and they haven’t drawn a blank in any competition since a 1-0 home defeat to Malaga in February.
Bayern have a formidable home record, but tactically this is their worst nightmare. Their biggest weakness under Guardiola has been vulnerability on the counter-attack, and although they are stronger in this regard than they were last season, a high defensive line still offers scope to Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
Bayern have no choice but to push for goals, and that will play into Barca’s hands. The La Liga table-toppers have won their last nine Champions League games, including all five knockout matches. If you back them Draw No Bet at evens, you get your stake back if the game ends in stalemate, but if Barca win you win.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Bayern won’t go down without a fight, as meek surrender simply isn’t in the club’s DNA. They showed against Porto that when the crowd is behind them they can create huge pressure, and with Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller in their attack they still have plenty of firepower.
I think both teams will score, but Yes in the BTTS market is trading at a skinny [1.61], so I’d lean towards backing Over 2.5 Goals at [1.77]. Four of Barca’s five away games in the Champions League have seen an overs bet pay out, as have seven of Bayern’s last nine Champions League matches overall.
Back Barcelona Draw No Bet at [2.0]
Back Over 2.5 Goals at [1.77]