Barcelona meets Bayern Munich. It’s a pairing of the world’s best club until proven otherwise and the club that would quite like to prove otherwise. Bayern have been the top team in Germany and, really, Europe this season, winning 26/30 matches in the Bundesliga while outscoring opponents by an absurd 89-14 margin. They hold a 20-point lead over Borussia Dortmund, also present in Europe’s Final Four. They obliterated the Italian champions Juventus in the quarterfinals. Even with Barcelona’s pedigree, the Germans are, justifiably, favorites.
This Bayern team may rank among Europe’s all-time best. It will all be for naught, though, if they get eliminated here. Winning the domestic league, even in stupefying fashion, is a birthright for Bayern. A loss, especially to a Spanish club, would just add to an impressive string of “no cigar” disappointments for the Lahm/Schweinsteiger generation.
Barcelona Injuries. Barca will be short-handed at the back, at least for the first leg. Both Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano are out with knee injuries. Messi is still struggling to get fit. Xavi has played well, but has had his appearances rationed for only the important fixtures. Barcelona remains formidable – a down year is still cruising through La Liga and reaching the Champions League semifinals – but they are vulnerable.
President in Crisis: Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness has come under fire for his nefarious tax villainy. He admitted to German authorities he was squirreling away capital gains in a secret Swiss bank account. In America such ingenuity would make you presidential material. In Germany it may cost Hoeness his position.
The Dilemma: Does Pep Guardiola root for the team he built, or the team he is contracted to take over in about a month?
Because They Can: Bayern’s model is to splash cash on one star player per year. They already have this summer’s lined up in Dortmund’s Mario Goetze. Winning the league by 20 points AND buying the second place team’s most talented player: it’s the Bayern way.
Prediction: It’s tough to pick against Barcelona, but in 2013 it is tough to bet against Bayern Munich. The German giants have won 19 of their last 20 matches in all competitions. The one loss was 2-0 to Arsenal after taking a huge lead in the Round of 16. They have won eight matches since by a combined margin of 31-6. Juventus were tired and got steamrolled. It’s hard to see a gasping Barcelona getting it done. 3-2 Bayern on aggregate.
[Photo via Getty]