Battle of the FCBs

Posted by Susie Schaaf

I never realized there was an AP poll for "global soccer" until Bayern Munich ended up at the top of it. I thought that the AP was only something I had to be aware of for college basketball and football. And while quantifying football teams that play in different leagues is nigh impossible, perhaps UEFA does it best with its club coefficient rankings -- judged on European performance over a five year period.`

- Bayern draw Barcelona
- Delaney: Barca-Bayern a timely clash

Topping the list are, of course, FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Muenchen. Bayern is there for reaching two Champions League finals in the last three years, but Barcelona trumps Bayern in winning the title in 2009 and 2011.

While I was sure that Bayern wouldn't draw Borussia Dortmund Friday in Switzerland -- keeping my hope for an all-German final alive -- I thought that Munich would be handed the tougher task of Real Madrid. Juergen Klopp and his men, instead, will have to deal with that mess. Dortmund won't be facing the same Madrid as they did in the group stages.

"Bayern versus Barcelona -- giants are meeting in the Champions League", said Jupp Heynckes post-draw. "It will be huge task for us playing against this team, who have been enthusing and also dominating Europe with their imaginative and creative football for the past four years. I am looking forward to two magical football nights."

Barca, in recent times, are the benchmark by which all other teams are judged. Since 2008, the team that has beaten Barcelona (except, naturally, Barcelona) has gone on to hoist the trophy. "Barcelona is a tough draw," commented Javi Martinez, "But at the semifinal stage there are no easy opponents left in Champions League. They have been the absolute top team in Europe over the past few years; it will be very difficult for us. But if we want to reach the final we also have to beat Barca."

These two teams with great Champions League pedigrees have played each other just six times in Europe; with Bayern winning three, drawing twice and losing once. That loss, in 2009, was a 4-0 drubbing at the Nou Camp where Christian Lell had a horror show against Lionel Messi. "I remember that by the end I didn't want to watch anymore," said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

This edition of Bayern Munich, however, is vastly different than Klinsmann's '09 one. The 2013 version is a record-breaking, goal-scoring machine that can count only themselves as enemies; spurred on by the triple disappointment of 2012. Philipp Lahm opined: "For the third time in four years we have reached the semifinals and meet Barcelona at eye-level."

Lead by "the best player in the world" Lionel Messi, Barcelona has scored an astonishing 95 goals in La Liga this season. By comparison, Bayern Munich's tally of 79 Bundesliga goals seems somewhat lacking -- until you check out the next column of figures: Goals against. And it is there that you find why Bayern just might have the edge in this semifinal. Barca has been scored upon 33 times in the league, to just 13 against the Bavarians.

Javier Mascherano is the latest defender on Barca's injury list, joining captain Carlos Puyol who is recovering from knee surgery. Along with those two, Adriano has a dodgy hamstring, forcing Tito Villanova to call up Eric Abidal recently -- his first action since having a liver transplant a year ago.

Besides a patchwork defense, Barcelona has some yellow card issues to contend with, as well. Defenders Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Alex Song (lately used defensively) are one booking away from suspension.

Looking the other way, Bayern also have three key defensive players on the verge of suspension: Lahm, Dante and Luis Gustavo. The loss of Dante would be an especially cruel blow to Bayern as he has been the defensive rock this season, while losing captain Lahm would mean starting little-used Rafinha in his place. Perhaps the Brazilian right back will get some minutes over the next couple weekends -- getting a tune-up in case he's needed.

Manuel Neuer, criticized this season for making silly mistakes, showed up big against Juventus in the second leg proving once again why he should be considered one of the top goalkeepers in the world. Three lovely reaction saves kept the Old Lady off the scoreboard, and he'll need that type of game against Messi, the Argentinian striker famous for creating goals out of nothing.

With Mario Mandzukic suspended for the first leg, arguments can be made for either Mario Gomez or Claudio Pizarro to join the attacking trio of Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller and Franck Ribery. While this Bayern midfield -- along with Barcelona's -- is considered the best in the world, the one knock against them is their tendency for wastefulness.

"That is a super draw, a nice challenge for us. It will be deciding to get a good result at home and defend without any mistakes in Barcelona. This tie will be decided by the little details," Robben said.

One thing Heynckes will not do, however, is try to get any insider information from former Barcelona and future Bayern manager, Pep Guardiola. The Guardian quoted Matthias Sammer saying: "On the one hand, Jupp [Heynckes] is still the coach of Bayern and Pep does not arrive until June. On the other, it is a matter of respect: this is an ethical question."

The ethical question notwithstanding, Sammer was also asked if he planned to talk to Guardiola. He replied, "Why? He hasn't beaten Barcelona either, has he?"

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