Anything can happen in Lisbon.
Eight teams remain and going forward it’s a one-game knockout format all the way to the final on August 23rd.
That’s good news and bad news for everybody.
Bayern Munich is one of Europe’s hottest teams and the betting favorites.
Barcelona has been in crisis mode for the greater part of the year but are coming off an encouraging win against Napoli.
Bottom line, confidence or frustration from the domestic campaigns is irrelevant. That’s in the past, and the Champions League trophy is only three games away.
The world will be watching as the Catalan giants look to take down the Bavarian juggernaut with a scintillating semi-final against former manager Pep Guardiola on the horizon.
As Barcelona prepares for the challenge, here’s an overview of Bayern Munich’s season, and the players to watch for.
After a precarious start the Bavarians and are one trophy shy of the treble
Bayern Munich started the year under manager Niko Kovac, his second season in charge of the club after winning the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal Cup the previous season.
Coming into the year the biggest signings were a loan deal for Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho and defender Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid.
Like Juventus, winning trophies is an expectation at Bayern. The main objective is to make an aggressive run in the Champions League, but the previous year they were knocked out in the round of 16. Not good enough.
Back home things did not start well for Kovac as his team lost 2-0 to Dortmund in the German Super Cup.
On November 2nd, they suffered a humiliating 5-1 loss to Frankfurt, leaving Bayern in fourth place in the table.
The next day Kovac left the team by mutual consent and was replaced by assistant Hans-Dieter Flick on an interim basis. He would go on to sign a permanent contract in April.
Under Flick, the team experienced instant success and went on to dominate the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal Cup, earning both trophies.
They have also cruised through the Champions League with little resistance, most recently flicking aside Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate.
Tactical profile under Hansi Flick
As manager Flick did not totally transform the team. In fact, he kept the same 4-2-3-1 formation that Kovac was using. Barca can expect the same shape on Friday.
The two major adjustment he did make was with Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich.
Muller had fallen out of favor and saw his minutes diminish. Flick gave him a vote of confidence making Muller the regular attacking center midfielder. Coutinho was the one who suffered most under the change, but the team improved.
The move with Kimmich was even more significant. When Javi Martinez was injured, Flick moved Kimmich to the defensive midfield. This freed up Benjamin Pavard to play as the right-back. Both players excelled in these roles.
Tactically, Flick moved the team closer to where it was under Guardiola.
In the build up, he had full-backs Pavard and Alphonso Davies push higher up the field when playing out of the back.
The holding midfielders dropped deeper, while the attacking midfielder and the forwards occupied more of a central role. This allowed them to connect passes through the midfield, and also combine with the full-backs on the wing.
The net result was greater participation from players like Muller and Serge Gnabry, which freed up Robert Lewandowski to be in a position to score more goals.
Defensively the team played a higher line which helped increase their possession percentage.
They also were well organized when defending in front of goal staying compact with the center midfielders who were ready to capitalize on the opponent’s mistakes.
As a result, Bayern’s goals scored and conceded per game both improved significantly.
Players to watch for
Benjamin Pavard is out with injury while Kingsley Coman is a doubt which changes the outlook.
The result is that Kimmich moves back to his original position as the left full-back. Against Chelsea he looked good there, and most likely it means that Leon Goretzka will become the second holding midfielder alongside Thiago Alcantara.
One thing you’ll notice about Goretzka is that he looks like the Hulk now and even plays like it. During the pandemic he put on lots of muscle, and has been one of the team’s top performers since the restart.
Rounding out the defense you’ll see David Alaba and Jerome Boateng in the middle, with Canadian Alphonso Davies as the left-back. The teenager missed training on Wednesday but is expected to be fit.
Davies has been sensational. Only 19 years old and some people are calling him one of the best left-backs in the world. He is strong, fast, and likely to produce goalscoring opportunities. Barca need to keep an eye on him.
Up the field you’ll likely see Muller in a central role with Gnabry to his right. Who plays on the left is a bit of a mystery. With Coman injured, you’re likely to see Croatian Ivan Perisic, who started against Chelsea, or Coutinho who came on as a substitute.
Gnabry has become one of Bayern’s most important players, recording 12 goals and 10 assists in the Bundesliga. Muller also completed a resurgent year with a league leading 21 assists.
Barca’s game planning though will likely focus on shutting down Golden Boot winner Robert Lewandowski. This year he scored an astonishing 34 goals, putting him in contention for the Ballon d’Or before it was canceled.
Stopping him will require a strong defensive presence in the midfield that disrupts Bayern’s build up. Diario Sport has reported that Barca is considering playing with four midfielders in order to address this concern.
Bayern are a formidable team at the moment because of a system that utilizes possession to create space up the field for Lewandowski and the full-backs to exploit.
Success will require tactical discipline, since they will not see as much of the ball as they usually do, but also some courage on the attack.
The defenders need to be focused and organized. The game will be won at the margins, and there is no room for mistakes.
If Barca plays with four midfielders they’ll need to create turnovers and show quickness of mind to counter attack, with Arturo Vidal likely to push ahead in support of the forwards.
In front of goal they need to take shots and put away chances. Statistically they have not created enough opportunities recently, with Napoli being the exception. Against Bayern they’ll need to be ready to take full advantage of the moments they’re given.
One interesting battle with be Marc-Andre ter Stegen vs Manuel Neuer. This would be a fine showcase to determine who is the best goalkeeper in Germany. Ter Stegen could be the difference maker for Barca.
Regardless of the outcome we are in for a treat. May the best team win.