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With Napoli out of the way, next up for FC Barcelona in the Champions League is Bayern Munich (Friday 14 August at 9.00pm CEST in Lisbon). And it won’t be an easy quarter final, played over a single leg against one of the most in-form teams in Europe, unbeaten in the Bundesliga since December, on a 13-game winning streak, and having made shockingly light work of Chelsea in the previous round.
Curiously, there are only two teams left in the competition that have never won it before, and they’re Barça and Bayern!
Flick rings the changes
One of the reasons for the Bavarians’ exceptional performances is the coach, Hans-Dieter Flick. Since the former player took over in November, following a shock 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt that cost Niko Kovac his job, Bayern just can’t put a foot wrong. 21 wins, one draw and just two defeats, neither of which were in 2020.
They also won the German Cup by beating Bayer Leverkusen in the final and were practically through to the quarter finals of the UCL already after a stunning 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge. PSG is now the only other team in Europe that could still win the treble.
Experience and youth
But it’s not all about the manager. Robert Lewandowski has been in incredible form up front, narrowly missing out on the Golden Shoe to Ciro Immobile. And Thomas Müller seems to have regained his finest form under Flick, setting a new Bundesliga record of 21 assists.
There are plenty of other household names for Barça to worry about: Boateng, Javi Martínez, Perisic and in goal there’s Neuer, the man who not even Marc-André ter Stegen has been able to displace from the number one jersey for the German national team.
But there is young talent too, including full backs Benajimn Pavard and Alphonso Davies, the versatile Joshua Kimmich and the more attack-minded Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman.
Thiago and Coutinho, old friends
Bayern have two players that will no introduction to Culers. Thiago Alcántara grew up at La Masia and left for Bayern in 2013, where he has been consolidated a key part of the team when injuries have been kind to him. And Philippe Coutinho is on loan to the club after joining Barça from Liverpool in 2018.
Success after success
Bayern are no strangers to such success. With 30 leagues, 20 cups and 5 Champions League they are by far the most successful German team of all time, although their current run of eight consecutive Bundesligas puts even that amazing history in the shadows. This season’s has been harder than others, mainly because they got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, meaning Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig were the early pacesetters.
All shapes and sizes
Lisbon will bring the latest episode of one of the finest rivalries in the Champions League. In fact, on all three previous occasions when Bayern and Barça have crossed paths, the winner has gone on to collect the trophy. In 2015, Luis Enrique’s Barça beat Josep Guardiola’s Bayern in the semi-finals, gaining revenge after the Germans had won by an alarmingly high margin in the 2013 semis. Guardiola was also on the bench in 2009, but this time for Barça, when his team beat Bayern in the quarter finals.
Iniesta and Lahm.
So, next Friday’s game has all the promise of being a classic night of European football, albeit behind closed doors. Two of the greatest teams in football right now are never going to fail to provide the kind of game to remember.
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