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The decisive phase of the 2014/15 season continues this Wednesday with the first leg of the Champions League semi-final between FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The game sees the return of Pep Guardiola to Camp Nou for the first time since leaving the Club back in the summer of 2012 to take on a Barça side now coached by his friend and former blaugrana team mate Luis Enrique. The first leg kicks off at 8.45pm CET on Wednesday with the return leg to come next Tuesday in the Allianz Arena as the two giants of European Football battle it out for a place in the Champions League final which will take place on 6 June in Berlin.
Barça coach Luis Enrique and his side trained for the final time on Tuesday ahead of the date with Bayern at Camp Nou on Wednesday. There was disappointment for French defender Jérémy Mathieu as he was ruled out of the first leg with an Achilles problem, but good news for Thomas Vermaelen who makes his debut in a match day squad. With Masip, Douglas, Montoya and Sergi Roberto missing out alongside the injured Mathieu, the full 18-man squad announced on Wednesday morning is: Ter Stegen, Bravo, Dani Alves, Adriano, Alba, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Sergio, Xavi, Iniesta, Rakitic, Rafinha, Pedro, Neymar Jr, Suárez and Messi.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola has seen his preparations for the Champions League semi-final hampered by injury and his resources have been stretched to the limit with several key players not making the trip to Barcelona. Influential Dutch winger Arjen Robben is out for the rest of the season after breaking down with a calf injury just 16 minutes into his comeback from a stomach muscle injury in the German Cup semi-final defeat against Borussia Dortmund. French star Franck Ribéry, full back David Alaba, defender Holger Badstuber and midfielder Sebastian Rode will also be absent against Barça due to injury. Striker Robert Lewandowski is a doubt after breaking his nose and jaw against Dortmund. The Polish international has trained in recent days with a protective mask and coach Guardiola admitted in his pre-game press conference on Tuesday that he would have to wait to see how Lewandowski comes through training before making a final decision. Better news for the Bundesliga Champions is that Mehdi Benatia and former Athletic Bilbao man Javi Martínez are available again after recently returning to full fitness after spells out due to injury.
In his appearance before the press on Tuesday, Barça coach Luis Enrique was full of praise for his team’s semi-final opponents: “I like Bayern and the way they are very intense in attack and firm at the back.” The blaugrana boss went on to highlight the quality that will be on show on Wednesday at Camp Nou: "There's only one ball on the pitch and both teams want it, we’ll have to see who manages things best.This is the most attractive match up in Europe right now.” Luis Enrique admitted that the return of his former team mate Guardiola made it a special game, yet “we aren’t going into this match as a game to beat Pep. It’ll be good to see him, but my players know how important this game is, there’s a final up for grabs and this is such a big game it’s about more than just specific people”.
In his much awaited press conference on Tuesday on his return to Camp Nou, Bayern coach Pep Guardiola admitted that the circumstances were a little unusual: “You have to understand that for me it is not a normal game. Barça was my home for 30 years but now I am Bayern coach and I am here for a game. It’s my job and I have to do it as well as possible.” The man who spent four seasons in charge of the blaugranes was also refreshingly honest when asked about how he planned to deal with Leo Messi: “You can’t stop Messi. Seeing how he is, we can only try to stop him getting the ball.”
Since clinching their semi-final spot with a 2-0 win at home over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals, Luis Enrique’s side have kept up their challenge for the league title with three consecutive wins in which they scored 16 times and conceded none. A 2-0 win in the Catalan derby against Espanyol was followed by a handsome 6-0 win at home over Getafe and a 8-0 away victory at Córdoba that saw Luis Suárez score his first hat-trick for the blaugranes, Barça remain top of the table with a two point lead over Real Madrid with just three games of the league season remaining.
Bayern claimed their 25th Bundesliga title back on 26 April when Wolfsburg’s defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Munich’s 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin combined to crown the Bavarians champions. Since then, however, Bayern have stuttered: they lost at home in the semi-finals of the German Cup on penalties to Borussia Dortmund after the game ended 1-1 at the end of extra time. At the weekend they went down 2-0 away at Bayer Leverkusen with Guardiola deciding to rest several players ahead of the trip to Barcelona.
The teams have met eight times in European competition with Barça having beaten the Germans just once in that time, drawing twice and losing on five occasions. However, that win was a memorable one as it came on the road to success in the tournament back in 2009, when the blaugranes lifted the famous trophy after victory over Manchester United in the final in Rome. They met the Bavarians in the quarter-finals of that season’s competition and a 4-0 victory at Camp Nou set them on the road to a 5-1 aggregate win. Leo Messi scored twice that day with the other goals coming from Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o. The teams’ most recent confrontation in Europe does not bring back such happy memories, Bayern winning 4-0 at home in Munich and 3-0 at Camp Nou in the semi-finals back in 2013.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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