The Champions League quarter-final between Barcelona and Bayern Munich tonight is a duel of superlatives.
From attacking stars Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski to goalkeepers Marc-André ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer, the Champions League quarter-final between Barcelona and Bayern Munich tonight is a duel of superlatives.
Both clubs have won the elite event five times, and knocked out the other in the semi-finals when they won their last title, Bayern in 2013 and Barca in 2015.
Players including Mark van Bommel, Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal have worn both shirts, and Louis van Gaal and Pep Guardiola have coached both sides as well.
Now their paths cross for the first time in a one-legged match, and the winner could face Guardiola in the semis, provided that Manchester City beat Olympique Lyon in their last-eight match tomorrow.
Many pundits believe Bayern are the top title favourites in Lisbon.
“I think we can beat any opponent. Nevertheless, we know that a very good team is waiting for us with world-class players. We will play with a lot of confidence, like we have over the past nine months,” midfielder Leon Goretzka said.
Bayern are unbeaten since December in all competitions, winning 26 of those 27 matches, and all 12 since the restart from the coronavirus suspension in May as they bagged another Bundesliga and German Cup double in their quest for a treble.
Polish marksman Lewandowski has been a major factor in their successful season, scoring 53 goals in all competitions and looking set for a personal treble of ending up top scorer in all three events.
He tops the Champions League scoring charts this season with 13 goals, just four shy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 17 in one campaign, and was involved in all seven goals Bayern scored in the last-16 tie against Chelsea.
Turning 32 next week, Lewandowski also wants to prove that he can deliver when it really matters, which hasn’t always been the case in the past.
“It is the icing on the cake to know that you have a striker up front who always scores,” attacking partner Serge Gnabry said, and Goretzka added that “Lewy is in unbelievable form”.
Lewandowski, who lost the 2013 final with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern before joining them, admitted that winning the Champions League “is the big aim for every player” but he also warned that nothing is decided yet.
“First we must beat Barca. They are dangerous and we must show our quality,” he said.
Thomas Mueller struck a similar note, saying: “We are storming from record to record. But anything can happen in a game at this level, even if Barca had some problems lately. Your streak could end up in the bin of you don’t manage to do what you have to do.”
Bayern are also well-rested after a month-long break and their 4-1 demolition of Chelsea on Saturday showed that they are ready to aim for the title. Another major asset is coach Hansi Flick, who has transformed the team since taking charge in November, and knows how to prepare a team for such one-off matches from his days as Germany assistant coach.