On Tuesday, Bayern Munich will travel to Nou Camp to take on Barcelona in the first leg of the Champion’s League semifinals. It is without a doubt the most anticipated match of the year as these two teams have been arguably the two most dominating clubs in Europe over the last 10 years. Adding intrigue and raw emotion to the match of the year is the Pep Guardiola factor.
As everyone knows, Tuesday’s match will be Guardiola’s first time back in the Nou Camp as an opposing coach rather than a legend or a fan. As if watching two outstanding clubs rich in history and silverware compete for the ultimate prize is not enough, Pep’s return to his home and his old team makes an amazing match-up a once and a lifetime event that should surely not be missed.
But once the ovation ends and the whistle goes, the game will start and everything else will become secondary to what happens on the pitch for those ninety minutes.
When the leg was first announced, it seemed that Bayern Munich had the edge. Not only had the German club just demolished Porto and would host the second leg, Barcelona—although easily beating PSG— still seemed like a work in progress.
At the start of last week Bayern Munich finally seemed to be getting their team back together again after another season of being riddled with injuries.
Against Porto, the club looked at the top of their form and some of their vital players were back with Thiago being match fit and Robben on the road to recovery and likely able to start against Barcelona. Bayern was once again a team to fear.
Then came their domestic cup semifinal against their rivals Borussia Dortmund. The club looked flat and was unable to impose their will on the game.
Bayern ended up losing in penalties but worse than the defeat was the loss of Robben (again) and Lewandowsk, ensuring the club will be without their top striker and most dangerous offensive weapon when they enter the Nou Camp. How quickly things change, from the high of a dominating performance and good vibes to the low of an ugly loss and depleted squad.
Contrast Bayern to Barcelona and it’s a completely different world. Barcelona is playing their best football since the early days of Tito’s sadly short reign. Enrique has learned to use Barcelona’s midfield to better control the game, has strengthen the defense, and the trio of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez look unstoppable.
Enrique may still be on his way out, but Barcelona could not be in a better position to complete a treble. Additionally, barring some unfortunate event this weekend, the club will head into the first leg against Bayern Munich without a serious injury.
The smart money and quite frankly the fool’s money should all be on Barcelona now. Bayern really only have two things going for them. The first is the advantage of hosting the second leg.
If Bayern can somehow keep Barcelona relatively quiet on Tuesday or more importantly even steal a goal, then they will be able to head home knowing what needs to be done. And as was demonstrated against Porto if the first leg is close, Munich will be no picnic for Barcelona.
The second (and maybe the only bright spot for Bayern Munich) is the coaching match-up. This is Enrique’s first go around in the Champions League while Pep is twice a winner and no stranger to these tricky ties.
Over the course of this season, Enrique has shown himself to be a good manager proving a lot of critics wrong (so far)—this author included. He adapted when a rift with Messi threatened to torpedo the season and listened to the veterans and adjusted his tactics accordingly.
But Pep is not considered the best coach of this generation for nothing. His tactics have been analyzed relentlessly and celebrated around the world, his teams are considered some of the best ever, his is credited for turning Messi from a world class player to maybe the greatest ever, and he never looks bad in a suit.
Add this resume to the simple fact that he coached Barcelona for four years and Guardiola should have a massive advantage in the manager match-up.
Pep spent over four year studying the strengths and weaknesses of half of Barcelona’s starters and someone like Pep probably sent hours upon hours putting himself in the shoes of opposing coaches trying to break down his Barcelona. Now he has that opportunity, surely there are things he knows that no other coach could possibly know.
So when it comes to the match-up on the sidelines and before the game starts, there is no question who has the advantage.
The question that remains then is this: Is Pep’s advantage over Enrique a big enough difference to see Bayern through? The money and lineups seem to disagree, but then again the smart money said a former player with only one year of coaching could not succeed as a manager at a top club.
The odds were against Pep then like they are now. It may not be the smartest thing to bet against him. Instead, through your money on Real Madrid and just enjoy two matches between two great teams. You will not be disappointed.