The eyes of the footballing world will fall on Italian champions Inter Milan and UEFA Champions League holders Barcelona on Tuesday as the continent’s premier club competition reaches the semi-final stage.
Following that prestigious duo into the limelight 24 hours later will be Bayern Munich, the most successful side still involved with four European Cup/Champions League wins, and relative outsiders Lyon, who are through to the semis for the first time in their history.
The three former winners from that quartet boast a total of nine crowns between them, the same total as record club Real Madrid. Of that trio, Barça’s recent pedigree is the most impressive, featuring as it does two wins over the last four seasons (2006 and 2009), while Bayern last lifted the trophy in 2001 and Inter must look all the way back to 1965 for their most recent triumph.
Also noteworthy during this week’s opening legs is the fact that the away teams have travelled by coach due to air traffic problems linked to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. For Barcelona, that has meant a 1,000km road trip to Milan, while Lyon have had to negotiate a 750km journey to Bavaria.
Tuesday 20 April 2010
Wednesday 21 April 2010
There will be few secrets between these two storied sides after they faced each other twice during the group stage, when Barça secured a goalless draw at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza before running out 2-0 winners in Catalonia. Neither Inter coach Jose Mourinho nor his Blaugrana counterpart Josep 'Pep' Guardiola will be dwelling on the past, however, and the Nerazzuri’s ‘Special One’ will have been struck by the success of his decision to field three forwards away against Chelsea during the first knockout round. As a result, and fully conscious of the importance of away goals, he may well show caution on home soil, meaning a 4-1-4-1 formation to hold the swashbuckling visitors and their talismanic danger man Lionel Messi at bay. In the opposition camp, Guardiola will have to cope without Andres Iniesta, the inevitable tiredness that follows a long coach journey and the after-effects of Saturday’s hard-fought 0-0 derby draw with Espanyol.
Everything looks to be going right for Bayern at the moment after they warmed up for Wednesday’s game with an eye-catching 7-0 defeat of Hanover. Ivica Olic and Thomas Muller both scored twice and Arjen Robben went one better with a hat-trick, the Dutch international again playing with an easy authority that has inspired his colleagues in recent weeks. The only cloud on the horizon for the Bavarian giants is that Mark van Bommel is suspended for the first leg. As for Lyon, they head into the match on the back of a testing 2-2 draw at Bordeaux, the side they dumped out of Champions League contention in the quarter-finals. Although seven of his players are a booking away from missing the second leg, Claude Puel can count on a full squad and will be hoping for more great things from Argentinian forward Lisandro Lopez, who boasts 20 strikes in the Champions League (13 with FC Porto, seven with Lyon) and will be charged with sniffing out an all-important away goal. History seems to be on Lyon’s side as they triumphed 2-1 at the Allianz Arena in 2003 and drew 1-1 there in 2008, while Bayern have recorded two draws and two defeats in their last four home meetings with French clubs.
Player to watch
Signed by Inter before the start of the season, Samuel Eto'o always tends to shine during the spring and has ensured that this year is no exception with a recent burst of form. The Cameroon international will be facing the team he helped to Champions League glory in 2006 and 2009 with goals in both finals and will doubtless be desperate to outshine competition top scorer Messi. The Argentinian magician has plundered eight strikes so far and Eto’o will want to take the upper hand before the duo cross paths again at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
3 – Louis van Gaal and Mourinho will become the first coaches to grace the semi-finals with three different teams. The Bayern Munich trainer previously progressed to this stage with Ajax in 1995 and 1997, before repeating the feat with Barcelona in 2000. In Mourinho’s case, his CV contains semi-final appearances with Porto in 2004 and Chelsea in 2005 and 2007. Among the five coaches to have reached the last four with two clubs, Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti missed out on the chance to secure his hat-trick this term.
What they said
"Sometimes, when you’re not expecting much from a team, they go all the way," Jeremy Toulalan, Lyon holding midfielder.
"I’d settle for a 0-0 draw at the San Siro because we’ll play a different way at the Camp Nou than we did during the group stage,” Jose Mourinho, Inter coach.
Have your say
Given their progress in the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup, do Bayern Munich have what it takes to secure a treble of trophies this term?