Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has urged his team to believe that they can still claim victory in their Champions League semifinal despite trailing 4-0 to Bayern Munich heading into the second leg at Camp Nou.
After a superb performance from the Bavarians last week punished a subpar Barcelona to devastating effect, the Liga leaders face a mammoth task if they are to maintain hopes of lifting the European Cup for the third time in five seasons.
“We're FC Barcelona and we can't take this tie as being lost already,” Vilanova said, according to UEFA’s website. “If we don't make it, we have to hold our heads high, fight until the end and make our fans feel proud of us.”
Lionel Messi was almost anonymous at the Allianz Arena following his return from a hamstring injury, but looked back to his best as he scored after coming on as a substitute in the draw with Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. And Vilanova admits that Messi could be key to Barcelona’s hopes.
“We know how important Messi is, especially when it comes to scoring goals,” he explained. “The better he plays, the better it is for the team. But we can't heap all the pressure on his shoulders -- the rest of the team have to help. Still, Messi will have a lot of say in the outcome.”
Barcelona’s hopes will again be hampered by a number of players unavailable. Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol remain sidelined, while Sergio Busquets and Eric Abidal are also now ruled out with injuries. Jordi Alba is suspended.
No side has ever come back from a 4-0 first-leg deficit in the European Cup/Champions League -- although it has happened twice in the UEFA Cup and once in the Cup Winners’ Cup. One of the managers to be on the wrong end of such a dramatic reversal was Jupp Heynckes when in charge of Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1985/86 season and the current Bayern boss is unsurprisingly taking nothing for granted against a team of Barcelona’s pedigree.
“I have to say Barcelona are still the best team in the world so we will prepare accordingly,” he said. “They are capable of great things at Camp Nou and we want to avoid that. We will play like we did in Munich, attacking, playing to score -- let's see if it works out.”
Bayern will have Mario Mandzukic available after the Croatian striker was suspended for the first leg. With Dante likely to recover from a minor niggle, Heynckes’ only absentees are long-term injury victims Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber.
D: Daniel Alves, Pique, Adriano, Montoya
M: Xavi, Song, Iniesta
F: Villa, Messi, Pedro
Bayern Munich (probable)
D: Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba
M: Schweinsteiger, Martinez
Robben, Muller, Ribery
Prediction: As good as Bayern were last week, Barcelona were extremely poor all over the pitch. Adriano could well replace the inexperienced Marc Barta to try and strengthen the center of defense even if it means Martin Montoya playing out of position at left-back.
At the other end, there should be a much better performance from Messi as he returns to match sharpness. The forward was exceptional in a 30 minute came at the weekend and with him firing Barcelona are a different proposition.
The loss of Busquets cannot be overestimated, though. His lack of fitness was a key part in Barcelona getting overrun in the first leg by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez. Alex Song has a huge task to prevent that from happening this time around.
Barcelona showed again against Milan this season that they are a far more dangerous side at home when they beat the Italians 4-0 on the expansive Camp Nou surface. Bayern can’t afford to get complacent, but they are a far better side than Milan and should progress with something to spare.
Barcelona 2-1 Bayern Munich
Where to watch: The Champions League semifinal second leg will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by FX, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.