UEFA Champions League preview
There is still everything to play for in this week’s UEFA Champions League semi-final second legs, with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan holding the aces after earning valuable leads in last week’s first-leg ties.
That said, Barcelona have more than enough attacking firepower to overturn Inter’s 3-1 lead at the Camp Nou on Wednesday and keep alive their hopes of becoming the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles.
Meanwhile, Lyon, the only side left in the competition who have yet to win it, have only one goal to make up on Bayern, which should make for a fascinating evening at the Stade Gerland on Tuesday.
Lyon-Bayern Munich (Bayern lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Barcelona-Inter Milan (Inter lead 3-1 on aggregate)
“We tend to play a lot better when we go out looking for a result rather than just defending.” Those words belong to Lyon coach Claude Puel, whose side paid for their overly cautious approach in Munich, much to the chagrin of their Argentinian striker Lisandro Lopez, an advocate of a more attacking style of play.
Having failed to take advantage of Franck Ribery’s first-half sending-off, Lyon then had Jeremy Toulalan red-carded after the restart. Now deprived of his midfield linchpin, Puel also has six players on yellow cards for the return leg, all of which means they will need to tread a fine line if they are to avoid suspension for the final. To get there Les Gones will need to come up with a response to Arjen Robben’s first-leg strike, a challenge for which they should be fresh after being exempted from domestic action at the weekend.
Bayern go into the game as Bundesliga leaders despite dropping two points at Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday. Centre-halves Daniel van Buyten and Martin Demichelis are both injury doubts, with coach Louis van Gaal contemplating the possibility of drafting Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Holger Badstuber into defence. Though without the suspended Ribery, the Dutch supremo will be grateful that his in-form compatriot Robben is fit and raring to go.
Fielding much-changed starting line-ups in their league outings at the weekend, both sides recorded priceless 3-1 wins. Barça overcame Xerez, while Inter saw off Atalanta, stretching Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten run as a coach in all home games to 164, which stretches back to 23 February 2002 when he was still at Porto. The Portuguese was more concerned, however, with Wesley Sneijder’s worrying injury, which may keep him out of the tie. Dejan Stankovic is definitely out through suspension.
The competition’s top scorer with eight goals in ten games, Lionel Messi will be out to spearhead Barcelona’s comeback, although doubts still remain about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s role. The Swede teed up Thierry Henry for Barcelona's second goal against Xerez before scoring the third himself, leaving coach Pep Guardiola with the conundrum of deciding whether to start with him or Messi in the centre of attack.
With several of the club’s former legends voicing a preference for the fleet-footed Argentinian, it will be interesting to see whether Guardiola opts for the same formation as the first leg. Whatever the line-up, Los Azulgranas will be investing all their energies in turning the tie around. They made that intention clear at the end of Saturday’s game, when they left the field wearing t-shirts imploring the fans to turn up in numbers on Wednesday and cheer them to a famous victory.
Player to watch
Absent from the first leg through suspension, Bayern’s 33-year-old Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel will be back in action at the Stade Gerland. Although he has picked up the small matter of ten yellow cards in 23 Bundesliga matches this season, Van Bommel is well aware he needs to watch his step against Lyon.
“Everyone knows what their job is in this team and that means I have to be less committed in my challenges,” he said. “And the fact we control possession more also means we need to commit less fouls to win it back.” A Champions League winner with Barcelona in 2006, the former PSV man is convinced his side will advance to the final: “With this team, we can beat the best”.
2 - The number of times that Barcelona have gone down 3-1 in the first leg of a Champions League tie. On both occasions, the Catalans staged second-half comebacks to reach the next round. The first of their victims were Dinamo Kiev, who subsided to a 4-1 defeat in Spain in the 1993/94 season, while Chelsea were beaten 5-1 after extra time in the 1999/00 competition.
What they said
“I feel that we can win the lot this year. Hardly anyone believed it was possible at the start of the season but everyone’s thinking that way now, and that’s because morale is very high,” Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal.
“Barcelona need to play the same game on Wednesday as we’ve always played,” Barcelona coach, Josep Guardiola.
Have your say
Can Barcelona pull it back or will Inter Milan go through? Will there be a French or German team in the final?