It was impossible for Bayern Munich to avoid a tough draw in the Champions League semi-finals. The line-up, with the other teams being Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Barcelona, is a scary array of talented players and fearsome collectives. However, there’s a real confidence within areas of Bayern’s fan-base that they can conquer the great Barcelona. Here are 10 reasons why they can.
1. They beat Real Madrid last year
Real Madrid are unbeaten in Clasicos this year, having won two and drawn two of their match-ups with Barcelona. Bayern are quite similar to Real tactically – both play 4-2-3-1 formations and play modern, attacking football; almost a combination of German and Spanish football, with Germans Ozil and Khedira currently starring for Madrid.
The style similarities between the sides were shown in a tight two-legged battle in the semi-finals last season, with Bayern coming out on top on penalties at the Bernabeu. If Real Madrid can come out on top overall in their matches with Barcelona this season, Bayern certainly can.
2. They’re hurting from last season
Having missed out on all three major trophies last season – Dortmund pipped them to the league and domestic cup, while Chelsea memorably defeated them in the Champions League final on their own turf. There was a back-room shake-up, and a healthy summer transfer window, and Bayern were determined to set things right.
They’ve already stormed back to the Bundesliga title, with a DFB semi-final against Wolfsburg coming up, but the Champions League is the big one – especially seeing as they were beaten at their own stadium in the final last season.
3. Schweinsteiger can go toe-to-toe with Xavi
In that final against Chelsea, Bastian Schweinsteiger missed the decisive penalty, before Didier Drogba sealed the victory for the Blues. Rather than let it knock him, Schweinsteiger was spurred on by the crucial miss, and has been even better this season, scoring the winner in the Bundesliga title-clinching match against Frankfurt.
Everyone raves about Barcelona’s strength in midfield, with Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta and Fabregas making up one of the most fearsome midriffs in European football. However, with Schweinsteiger, surely one of the best all-round midfielders in the world, alongside Javi Martinez and Toni Kroos, Bayern can compete in the middle of the park.
4. Barcelona relying on Messi
It was obvious how Barcelona were struggling against PSG in their home game without Lionel Messi – it’s hardly surprising that a team are reliant on their best player, but it is definitely something that Bayern could look to exploit: stop Messi, and maybe you can go some way to stopping Barca.
Obviously, that’s easier said than done. However, Bayern’s midfield is a powerful mix of physical dominance and footballing intelligence. If Schweinsteiger and Martinez can block Xavi and Iniesta’s route to Messi, and Alaba and Lahm can restrict Barcelona’s wide players, Messi might becoming isolated. They’ve hardly been without Messi this season, so it’d be interesting to see how they could cope with their go-to guy marked out of the game.
5. Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world
The phrase ‘has a clanger in him’ is perhaps a cliché that’s true of all modern goalkeepers, but Victor Valdes proved that he’s not always a solid number one in the first leg against PSG, letting Blaise Matuidi’s weak effort slip past him in the last minute.
Manuel Neuer, on the other hand, has had a superb season, helping Bayern’s defence to become one of the most miserly in Europe. The German keeper has gone from strength to strength after joining from Schalke, and is comfortable with his feet, meaning that if Barcelona press them into oblivion, Bayern can go back to their goalkeeper.
6. Toni Kroos is maturing into one of the world’s best playmakers
The world has been waxing lyrical about Germany’s youth development system for a while, and there are few examples better than Toni Kroos. Kroos was loaned out by Bayern to fellow Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, and found game-time that wouldn’t have been available to him in Bavaria.
Now he’s a fully-fledged and established member of the side, integral to their play. A truly rounded midfielder, Kroos can shoot from distance (as Arsenal found out in the first leg), dictate play and play the perfect pass. The 23-year-old certainly has enough about him to worry Sergio Busquets at the base of Barcelona’s midfield.
7. Mandzukic can cause make-shift centre-backs trouble
Hardly a game goes by where Barcelona don’t have a player at centre-back who isn’t a natural central defender – Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Alex Song have all filled in alongside Gerard Pique at the heart of their back-line.
Mario Mandzukic, then, will be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of facing a defence that has conceded more league goals than Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Malaga. The summer signing from Wolfsburg has gone from strength to strength at the Allianz Arena, displacing Mario Gomez and scoring 19 goals in 32 appearances in all competitions.
8. Javi Martinez has made a strong position even stronger
Having addressed their main deficits in the summer, Bayern went out and signed Athletic Bilbao maestro Javi Martinez for €40 million. For such a huge price, and in a position where they already had Luiz Gustavo and Anatolity Tymoshuck, it seemed like a needless signing.
Martinez, who can also operate as an auxiliary centre-back should Bayern need him to drop back, has helped to make their defence as tight as it is now, with the statistics hardly requiring repetition. Not only that, but his range of passing is hugely impressive, and he helps Schweinsteiger and Kroos out with opening teams up. Like Barcelona, midfield is surely Bayern’s strongest area of the pitch.
9. Bayern’s full-backs are physically superb
The physical characteristics of David Alaba and Phillip Lahm are hardly the only things which make them great for Bayern, but they’re certainly key strengths – Alaba is lightning quick, having little trouble with Theo Walcott over two legs, and the Austrian possesses a sublime engine. Lahm, meanwhile, is just a beast – quick, strong and brave.
Going forward, Bayern’s full-backs often bomb forward, with the wide forwards cutting inside to make way for the overlap. Indeed, Arsenal struggled to cope with this in the first leg of their tie, with the third goal in particular being a product of Lahm’s overlapping. Usually, a side would restrict the full-backs against a side like Barcelona, but Lahm and Alaba are so quick and full of energy that they’ll be able to get up and down no problem.
10. Thomas Müller is improving every game
Many were surprised when Thomas Müller won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup, but he’s shown that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder with an excellent season for Bayern. He grabbed their goal which looked to have won it in last season’s final, and will be looking to contribute further to Bayern’s run this year.
Muller usually plays on the right of Bayern’s attack, even if he may be more suited to a second striker role, and, for the most part, has managed to keep Arjen Robben, a natural winger, out of the side. He’ll be up against Jordi Alba, the Spanish left-back signed by Barca to improve a weak position, but will probably get space to exploit when Alba goes forward as an auxiliary attacker.