In preparation for the return of soccer’s premier club competition, the 2020 UEFA Champions League Preview returns, providing you with a mini-series preparing you for when things kick off in August. Last time I gave you the 411 on Atalanta and Atletico Madrid, but now is the turn of two European giants.
A staple of the Champions League, FC Barcelona (managed by Quique Setien) boast a squad of undeniable talent. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers currently in the game, Frenkie De Jong is arguably one of the world’s most complete midfielders – at the tender age of 23), and attacking options of Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez and the G.O.A.T – Lionel Messi – are enough to put strike fear into any defence.
However, this year, things haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows at the Camp Nou.
Messi has 23 La Liga goals so far this season – amazing numbers, right? By mere mortal stands, yes, but compared to the Argentine forward’s stellar personal stats this is Messi’s lowest league scoring season since 2008/09 (when he also scored 23).
The problem isn’t Messi, he’s the greatest to ever lace his boots and play the game. The issue is, in his own word’s, Barca have been too ‘weak and vulnerable’. He told Spanish TV channel Movistar+:
“Things have to change. We are a weak team who can be beaten with enough intensity and enthusiasm. We have lost a lot of points which we shouldn’t have done. We have been very inconsistent.
“We need to be self-critical, starting with the players, but also across the entire club. We are Barcelona and we are obliged to win every game.”
Things in the UCL haven’t been too bad for the Blaugrana this season, after they topped a difficult Group F which featured fellow European powerhouses Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan. Slavia Praha, the remaining side, proved to be no pushovers.
A Round of 16 tie against Napoli followed, and the Italian side are themselves having a pretty turbulent season (we will get into that on a later date).
The first leg at the Stadio San Paolo finished 1-1, with Barca claiming a potentially vital away goal. However, they will be without Chilean midfield dynamo Arturo Vidal for the second leg after he was shown a red card in the draw.
Still mentally scarred by last year’s catastrophic capitulation in the Semi Final against Liverpool, it will be interesting to see if Barcelona can overcome their demons to successfully navigate their way past Napoli and cement their place in the quarter finals.
What’s for certain is the days of the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol seem a lifetime ago. Change is desperately needed at Barcelona and I would be very surprised if they were to achieve anything in the UCL this season. But you’d be a fool to count out Lionel Messi…
The next team to feature are a side that have tasted far better success this season than Barca, Bayern Munich.
FC Bayern München blitzed the Bundesliga, finishing 14 points clear of second placed Borussia Dortmund, and scoring 100 goals in the process (34 of those coming from Polish striker Robert Lewandowski).
They also comfortably won Germany’s knockout cup competition, the DFB-Pokal, beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 in the final thanks to goals from David Alaba, Serge Gnabry, and – you guessed it – a brace from red-hot Lewandowski.
Bayern head coach Hans-Dieter Flick, or ‘Hansi’ for short, has got the Bavarian juggernaut firing on all cylinders. Die Roten have a core as strong as any in world football.
Revolutionary sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer is a giant between the sticks, and any combination of Benjamin Pavard, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Bundesliga Rookie of the Year Alphonso Davies is as solid a foundation as they come.
Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Thiago Alcantara all over different yet key personal attributes that contribute to a perfectly balanced midfield, allowing for the likes of Thomas Muller, Kingsley Coman, Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Perisic and Serge Gnabry to flourish in the attacking areas.
Allowing for the ever-dependable Lewandowski to continue to be arguably the deadliest striker in the game.
In terms of the Champions League, Bayern stormed their group (Group B – feat. Tottenham Hotspur, Olympiacos and Red Star Belgrade) winning six games from six – the only team in the tournament to do so). The most notable of those victories was a comprehensive 7-2 thrashing away at last season’s finalists, Tottenham.
After navigating their group with ease and a flair we’ve come to expect from Bayern this season, a Round of 16 encounter with English side Chelsea awaited them.
Bayern have Champions League history with Chelsea, losing the London based side in the 2011/12 final (which to make matters worse, was held at Bayern’s home stadium the Allianz Arena).
But in the first leg, Bayern did what they have so often done this season and blew their opposition out of the water. A comfortable 3-0 victory has all but sealed Bayern’s place in the Quarter Finals where I can see them continuing their outrageous form and potentially going on to lift the trophy.
It’s going to take a world-beating side to knock out the reigning kings of Germany…