Sure, most fans in Spain (and the US for that matter) want to see El Clásico in the final. And certainly everyone is Germany is dreaming of an all-German final in the heart of England at the end of May. But FCB vs. FCB is championship matchup, and it’s a shame we won’t get to see these two teams playing each other for the title.
Half of Germany’s national team squad vs. half of Spain’s national team squad. Pep Guardiola’s former team versus Pep Guardiola’s future squad. The 2013 Bundesliga Champion versus the 2013 La Liga Champion. Barcelona are 13 points clear of second place Real Madrid to lead La Liga. Bayern Munich are 20 points clear of Borussia Dortmund to lead the Bundesliga (Madrid will face Dortmund in the other semi-final). Either Barcelona or Bayern Munich have been in the Champions League final each of the past four season (Barcelona in 2009, 2011; Bayern 2010, 2012). Who can argue that these two teams aren’t currently the best two sides in Europe?
Barcelona has Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, David Villa, Alexis... Oh... and let’s not forget, the world’s best player: Lionel Messi. It seems this season Barcelona doesn’t just count on Messi’s goals, but instead Messi being on the pitch compared to on the bench is a mental issue for Barcelona as well. After Messi was hurt in the first half of the first leg in Barcelona’s quarterfinal matchup against Paris St. Germain, PSG turned a 0:1 halftime deficit into a 2:2 draw. In the second leg at Camp Nou, PSG took the lead in the 50th minute when Messi was sitting on the bench with an apparent injury and looked poised to pull off the stunning upset. However, Barcelona’s life insurance came on in the 62nd minute and played a crucial role in setting up Pedro’s equalizer. Barcelona looked like a different team with Messi on the pitch (but really...which team wouldn’t welcome the world’s best player onto the pitch) and moved on to the semi-final.
AC Milan took Messi out of the game in the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup and won 2:0. When Messi was on top of his game in the second leg, Barcelona dominated Milan and beat them 4:0 to move on comfortably. However, Milan did give Jupp Heynckes and his coaching staff a blueprint on how to take Messi out of a game and beat Barcelona away from Camp Nou.
Bayern Munich's Messi isn’t one of their wingers, Robben or Ribery, nor is it Muller, Gomez or Mandzukic. It’s Bastian Schweinsteiger. The two losses the club has suffered in the current Champions League campaign have come at Bate Borisov (1:3) and against Arsenal London (0:2). Not coincidentally, those were the two games that Schweinsteiger missed this Champions League season. His manager has called him the team's midfield brain and engine. Tactically brilliant, he knows when to speed the game up and slow it down. Schweinsteiger seems to have forgotten about his missed penalty in last years finals loss at home to Chelsea. He seems poised for another run, and at 28 years of age, he’s starting to realize that the opportunities of winning a big title aren’t getting any better.
Today’s result will be crucial for Bayern Munich. No team prefers playing the first leg at home. In the back of their minds Bayern Munich must also know that AC Milan took a 2:0 lead to the Camp Nou and still got knocked out of the tournament. On the other hand, they also know that PSG played to a 1:1 draw at the Camp Nou, which offers some hope.
Both clubs have a deep history. Both have had players that are now legends of the game. Both teams have a great youth academy. In years past, Bayern have often been viewed as the ‘mini-Barca’ in terms of club management and philosophy. But if Bayern’s signing of Pep Guardiola is any indicator, it’s that the respect between these two clubs is now mutual.
No matter the result of this matchup, this will be the fifth straight year one of these two teams will be in the final of the Champions League.