Bayern Munich full-back Philipp Lahm is promising a footballing feast when his side meets Barcelona in a mouth-watering Champions League semifinal, which gets underway with the first leg in Munich on Tuesday.
Each of the last four Champions League finals has involved one of these two European giants and, adding further glamor to the tie, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are also the winners and presumptive-winners of Europe’s top two leagues this season, the Bundesliga and La Liga, respectively.
It certainly has all the ingredients to be a classic.
It is also a contest that is as hard to call as they come. Barcelona have the greater recent pedigree in the competition and will be looking for a third title in five years, but recent form may favor the Bavarians.
Other than their ultimately meaningless defeat to Arsenal in their last-16 second leg, Bayern have won an extraordinary 23 matches in a row. With just one league defeat all season, it is unsurprising that Jupp Heynckes’s side had the Bundesliga title wrapped up at the earliest point in history.
They come into the first leg with Barcelona on the back of scoring 16 goals in their past three matches; confidence surely couldn’t be higher.
Lahm certainly expects a very different contest from when the sides last met, in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2009, when Barcelona progressed 5-1 on aggregate after a 4-0 win at Camp Nou.
"You cannot undo the 4-0 now," Lahm explained, according to UEFA’s official website. "Now things are different, we have really developed, we want a step forward. This game is very different from how it was in 2009."
While people have been discussing a possible decline for Barcelona, Lahm is also aware that the opposite description is being used for his side.
"Barcelona are perhaps the best team in Europe, while we have developed very well in the last year," he explained. "And we have made the final twice in the last three years. It will be a fantastic football feast. People say we are the team of next few years -- it will be interesting against Barcelona."
Bayern progressed impressively comfortably for the second round running against Juventus in the quarterfinals, but it was a very different story for Barcelona.
Having drawn 2-2 in France, the Blaugrana were looking like they could be on the way out as they trailed Paris Saint-Germain back at Camp Nou. That was until Lionel Messi came off the bench and inspired his side to progress on away goals.
Having looked barely half-fit in that 30 minute cameo, Messi has not played since as he recovers from a hamstring injury. But with the Argentinian back in training, it seems inconceivable that he will not start in Munich.
Barcelona may be a team full of World Cup winners, but Messi’s influence was shown to be almost worryingly significant against PSG.
The side has been engineered so much toward getting the best out of the world’s finest player that the team looked physically and mentally lost without him. Yet, even if Messi is at his best against Bayern -- a big if -- that may not be enough to prevent a second-straight semifinal exit.
Whoever starts alongside Messi in attack -- almost certainly two from David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro -- will have to perform at a high level, something that all three have often struggled to do this season.
Villa could be particularly important, as it was his positioning centrally on the last shoulder of defenders that allowed Messi space in Barcelona’s second leg demolition of Milan. A performance of similar intensity and quality is likely to be needed to beat Bayern.
However, Barcelona’s hopes are undoubtedly helped by an injury to Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos. The Germany international’s abductor muscle injury picked up in the first leg against Juventus also robs the viewing public of a clash between arguably the world’s two finest midfield trios.
With Kroos out and the more offensively-minded Thomas Muller moving centrally into his place, Barcelona could gain a crucial advantage in the middle of the pitch. Bayern will also be without the suspended Mario Mandzukic, but Mario Gomez is in fine form, as is the other potential replacement Claudio Pizarro.
Barcelona’s injuries are arguably more worrying. To Tito Vilanova’s undoubted chagrin, his side’s problems are all at the back with Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano injured and the man who deputized at center back against PSG, Adriano, also out of the first leg through suspension.
Those absences are likely to mean an appearance for youngster Marc Bartra, who has never started a Champions League knockout match, and Bayern must surely be relishing going up against a back line that looks vulnerable at the best of times.
With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez forming a solid base to the midfield and Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Muller left to attack Barcelona’s back line behind Gomez, Bayern could well be heading to Spain next week with an advantage.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 2-1 Barcelona
Betting Odds: Bayern Munich are 6/5 favorites to emerge with a victory from the first leg. A draw is available at 5/2, the same price as a Barcelona win.
Coverage Details: The match will kick-off from the Allianz Arena at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.