The Team to be Drawn Against – Are Barca Now the Underdogs?

(Getty)

(Getty)

Barcelona

Coach Tito Vilanova (since July 2012)

Winners 4

Last five years (most recent last): SF – W – SF – W – SF

Astonishingly, the team everyone has feared for the last five years may be the one to be drawn against. Barcelona started with eight of the all-conquering Spanish XI against Paris Saint-Germain but still trailed before Lionel Messi limped on. The Argentine upped the tempo and forced the goal that secured a sixth successive semi-final. Relief, though, was mixed with concern at confirmation that Barça have what the Catalan press has diagnosed as a bad case of Messidependencia.

Not that this is necessarily coach Tito Vilanova’s main concern. Gerard Pique is the only fit central defender, with the other options either injured (Javier Mascherano, Carles Puyol), unconvincing (Alex Song, Marc Baltra), suspended (Adriano) or easing back from serious illness (Eric Abidal). If Puyol and Abidal are not ready, Sergio Busquets could drop back. That may allow Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil or Thomas Müller the freedom to cause havoc. There are Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, David Villa, the under-appreciated Pedro, plus rampaging full-backs, and Barça have the experience of being here before, but…

Bayern Munich

Coach Jupp Heyneckes (July 2011)

Winners 4

Last five years: DNQ – QF – F – 2R – F

Runaway Bundesliga winners, Bayern have responded impressively to losing last season’s final in such devastating circumstances (on penalties, on their home ground, to a Chelsea team they had dominated and led with seconds remaining). Winning in Chelsea’s backyard would be an apt riposte and the comfortable quarter-final victory over Juventus marks them out as the form team, even if Arsenal showed they can be vulnerable.

Arguably the best-balanced of the last four with excellence and experience in all areas of the pitch. Brazilian centre-back Dante, Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and Spain’s Javi Martinez have been added to the squad since last May, increasing Jupp Heynckes’ options as he aims to leave incoming coach Pep Guardiola with a daunting benchmark. Key men like Franck Ribéry, Phillip Lahm and Bastien Schweinsteiger remain.

The injured Toni Kroos will be missed, and banned Mandzukic misses the first leg. Thomas Müller is a fine replacement for Kroos while Heynckes, who led Real Madrid to the trophy in 1998, has Mario Gomez or Claudio Pizarro to fill in up front.

To read the entire article, including the analyses of Real and Dortmund, visit The Independent’s website here.

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