Barcelona v Paris St Germain - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final

Champions League preview: Picking favorites between Bayern Munich, Barcelona

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Having won an ever-tougher German league in record time, Bayern Munich needs little more to prove their European bonafides that the domestic distance between them and Borussia Dortmund (20 points), a 4-0 (aggregate) trouncing of Juventus in the UEFA Champions League quarters, and a roster with depth and quality that rivals any in world soccer. If they did, the 16-2 margin they’ve racked up in winning their last three league games or the +75 goal difference they’ve accumulated through 30 Bundesliga rounds would be enough to argue they’re not only Europe’s form team, they’ve put together UEFA’s most impressive campaign. If you were to pick Champions League’s favorite based on only this year’s returns, Bayern would be the obvious choice.

But that status only confounds the picture ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal, one that pits the would-be kings against the reigning monarchs. Because although Barcelona didn’t win last year’s Champions League (remember Chelsea?), their status as ‘team our club would most like to emulate’ creates a standard, one Bayern has implicitly bought into while tabbing Pep Guardiola to take over at the Allianz next year. Having won two Champions Leagues and three Spanish titles during four years bossing the Blaugrana, the Barcelona legend is set to bring Barça to Bavaria, a move that makes Tuesday’s meeting the first half of a type of Guardiola Clasico.

“I have respect for Pep Guardiola and we have a very good relationship,” Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes said on Monday. “This match will not affect this. I don’t need any information from anyone. I know Spanish football, I know Barça and I know my own team very well.”

It’s exactly what you’d expect from a coach that signed off on Guardiola’s hire, though it doesn’t help answer the central questions ahead of Tuesday’s match: Who’s the favorite? The team with the gaudy numbers and layers upon layers of talent? Or the team that sits on the proverbial throne.

There seem to be two schools of thought:

Picking Bayern Picking Barça
They’re clearly the best team in Europe. They’ve lapped the Bundesliga and embarrassed Juventus with talent that explains their results. Only subscribing to Barcelona mysticism would make them underdogs. We’re seen Barcelona be eliminated by lesser teams than Bayern. It’s one thing to put up impressive results against Germany and the res of Champions League – results that shouldn’t be discounted – but Barcelona is so stylistically distinct, you predict results based on a club’s performance against other teams. Most teams crumble against Barcelona

Bayern’s a team which, even by Barcelona’s standards, has an enviable amount of artillery. Even with first choice number nine Mario Mandsukic suspended, Bayern has an elite goal scorer: German international Mario Gomez. On the flanks, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben present significant challenges for Barcelona’s fullbacks, while Thomas Muller, set to play in support of Gomez, has proven himself in a World Cup and the previous Champions League. Bayern has no shortage of players who could win this match.

“To sum up Bayern’s strength this year with just one word, I would say ‘teamwork’,” Heynckes said. “Bayern play the most modern and up-to-date football in their history. There are so many things you can prepare before a game, but being spontaneous is very important in football. You need good intuition to do this.”

source: ReutersThat spontaneity means players like midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger (right) and Javi Martinez could also be threats, as well as fullbacks Philipp Lahm and David Alaba. It also means the team may have the fluidity to cover for the absence of Toni Kroos, the Bayern playmaker out for the season after suffering an abductors injury against Málaga.

The bigger injury concern, however, lies with the other side. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi – the consensus world’s best player who’s scored an astounding 43 goals in 29 league games – has only played since the his team’s second quarterfinal leg against Paris Saint-Germain, a match in which he could only go half an hour. Having picked up in injury in the first leg in Paris, Messi hasn’t started a game since April 2. He’s expected to being in Jordi Roura’s starting XI on Tuesday, but whether he’s 100 percent remains to be seem.

“Messi is improving and is getting better but we will have to see what the doctor says,” Barça’s interim boss Jordi Roura said on Monday. “He is a great player because he can dictate games. We hope he will be fine tomorrow.”

In a way, that’s not even the most important part of the match for Barcelona. On the road in game one of a two-legged tie, the more important thing will be staying close. Barcelona need to keep the score close enough to play their normal style when the match moves to Cataluyna. They need a big day from Gerard Piqué in defense, and they’ll need strong performances from Sergio Busquets and Victor Valdes.

Any result that keeps them from falling behind by more than one goal will be a positive one. Because of their standards, Barcelona will want to win on Tuesday, but with the quality of this Bayern side, staying close away from home could be the difference between maintaining their Champions League dreams and being just another Juventus on the road to Bayern’s title.

Notes

  • Bayern’s domestic season is done, but they’re still racking up results. Gomez and Claudio Pizarro each scored twice in this weekend’s 6-1 win at Hannover.
  • Barcelona also won this weekend, albeit in less convincing fashion. Cesc Fabregas’s 84th minute goal gave the Blaugrana a 1-0 win at home against Levante.
  • Eric Abidal, coming back from a liver transplant, played 90 minutes in central defense on Saturday, though don’t expect him in Roura’s XI at Bayern. Adriano should start along side Piqué in the middle.
  • The last time the two teams met was the 2008-09 Champions League quarterfinals. Barcelona routed Bayern in the first leg on their way to a 5-1 aggregate victory.
  • Bayern returns two starters from that match: Ribery and Lahm. Barcelona could return as many as six starters: Valdes, Dani Alves, Piqué, Xavi Hernandez, Messi, and Andres Iniesta,
  • Bayern have only lost once at home to a Spanish side in Champions League play: 3-2 to Deportivo la Coruna in 2002-03.
  • Barcelona have an eight match unbeaten run on German soil, their last trip a 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in last year’s group stage.

Possible Lineups

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Daniel Van Buyten, Philipp Lahm; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez; Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben; Mario Gomez.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Jordi Alba, Adriano, Gerard Piqué, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodriguez.

UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti looks to advance past Bayern

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid heads into the Allianz Arena’s hornets’ nest with a 1-0 advantage and hopes for another UEFA Champions League final.

Diego Simeone’s La Liga powers will look to keep its advantage over Bayern Munich, in turn booting Pep Guardiola into Manchester without a UCL title in Germany.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Bayern Munich: Neuer; Alaba, Boateng, Martinez, Ribéry, Lewandowski, Costa, Alonso, Lahm, Vidal, Müller. Subs: Ulreich, Tasci, Thiago, Rafinha, Götze, Coman, Kimmich.

Atletico Madrid: Oblak, Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez, Luis; Gabi, Augusto, Koke, Saul; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Savic, Lucas, Thomas, Carrasco, Correa, Vietto.

VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s run to glory?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17:  Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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What a season (and no, it isn’t over).

Leicester City is the Premier League’s champion, a 5000:1 odds defying winner which has danced through the imaginations of many of the world’s underdogs.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Nothing comparable to Leicester’s win ]

We know how they got here, but an interesting question is which moment will live in your memory when you’re reminded of Leicester’s run?

Game 5 — Dyer win Derby in stoppage

It had been a remarkable early season for Claudio Ranieri‘s troops when the Foxes came back from a 2-0 deficit against Midlands rivals Aston Villa, and substitute Nathan Dyer capped off the 3-2 win in style.

Game 14 — Vardy sets a Premier League record

Ruud van Nistelrooy taking a backseat to Jamie Vardy was unfathomable even a month beforehand, but Vardy’s goal gave him a Premier League record 11-straight matches with a goal (and all in one season). Not bad for the man deemed too old by a 2.Bundesliga team.

Game 25 — Blowout at the Etihad

Certainly many had this date circled as the beginning of a downturn for Leicester, but Riyad Mahrez dazzled while Robert Huth scored a pair of goals in a 3-1 ride past Manchester City on the road. It was on.

Game 27 — Ulloa starts earthquakes

Leicester looked destined to somehow find a draw from a dominant performance when Leonardo Ulloa lifted the Foxes to a late win over Norwich, causing mini earthquakes at the King Power Stadium.

Game 34 — Chaos at King Power

A game easily categorized in short, insane outbursts, or just the name Jon Moss

Vardy sent off for diving ?!? Penalty to West Ham for what?!? Penalty to Leicester for what?!?

2-2 final.

Fellaini, Huth charged after clashing during PL game

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 01: Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United goes past Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has charged Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini and Leicester defender Robert Huth with violent conduct after they clashed during a Premier League game at the weekend.

Fellaini reacted to getting his hair pulled by Huth by appearing to strike the defender with his elbow as they jostled at a set-piece during the 1-1 draw between the teams on Sunday.

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

The incident wasn’t seen by the match officials but was caught on video. It will now be referred to a panel of former elite referees.

The charges were announced Tuesday. The FA said the players have until Wednesday to respond.

Ranieri says club won’t repeat as Premier League champions, will “continue to build”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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Claudio Ranieri knows there’s difficulty ahead for Leicester City, albeit on a relative scale.

The Foxes are Premier League champions after Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Friday, and the Leicester boss is already being asked about a repeat performance.

[ MORE: Ranieri thanks Chelsea | Fans react in Leicester ]

With UEFA Champions League play next year and what is sure to be a tempting transfer market, Ranieri is being pragmatic in his approach. He says they won’t win the PL next season.

From Sky Sports:

“We want to continue to build,” he told SSN HQ’s Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.

“Now the season is out of our project but of course, the foundation is very solid. We know very well we have to fight for the position but we want to do our best. I’m positive and I want to fight.”

You’ll probably say he’s continuing a pattern of being sly — lowering sunglasses — like a fox, as Ranieri started 2015-16 wanting 40 points, then the Top Four, before finally admitting the title was an option.

You think he’s going to claim he’ll repeat? You can cue The Who, because Claudio… we won’t get fooled again.