As Barça and Bayern prepare to face each other in Friday’s Champions League quarter-finals, we take a look at the key individual battles of such clash.
Last Saturday, Barcelona had its nervy win over Napoli scoring a 3–1 victory, while, conversely, Bayern Munich steamrolled Chelsea on an aggregate of 7–1 to book their spot in the final 8 of the Champions League. With this, the football world is set to witness an enthralling fixture between the two European giants.
Both sides will be charged to knock out each other to reach semi-finals. Predictions show that, arguably, Bayern Munich will be dominating this game. They have got a stronghold in almost all areas; defence, attacks and midfield. Nonetheless, besides the dominance of the German champions, they leave chances for the opponents. The question is how Quique Setién’s team gets successful in keeping Hansi Flick’s front men at bay. Tactics will play a huge part in such duel, but so will individual performances. Thus, below we debate on the critical battles of such fixtures.
Do we need to compare the strikers? Lewandowski vs Suárez
Ever since Luis Suárez arrived in Catalonia, he has worked his socks off. Probably with his patience, confidence and status, he can win this show too. But for Robert Lewandowski: he is unstoppable. Suárez and Lewandowski, both can score and assist. However, the Poland international is better than the Uruguay national, as per the records.
Looking at the statistics of the 2019/20 season, Lewandowski has 34 goals and 64 shots on goal. In this sphere, Suárez is way behind with 16 goals and 43 shots on target. Sauntering to the next stats, the Barcelona striker is better with 8 assists, leaving the Polish behind with 4. However, the figures for passes proves Robert to be exceptional with 23 key passes to Suárez’s only 7. On the defensive side, Hansi Flick’s man has one block, 62 aerial duels and a total of 73 tackles. Well, here, Quique Setién’s target man got two blocks, 14 aerial duels and 25 tackles.
With 34 goals, Robert Lewandowski finished second in the Golden Boot race, only behind the 36 goals from Lazio’s Ciro Immobile | Photo by Matthias Hangst via Getty Images
Without debate, the importance of the Polish player to Bayern Munich is much greater right now than that of the former Liverpool star for Barça. If you take Suárez out of Setién’s squad, they may still somehow manage to score from different other positions. Try taking Flick’s number 9 out and boy, they are in trouble. Interestingly enough, it was proven this campaign when Lewandowski scored 34 times in 31 Bundesliga appearances, but the Germans struggled to score as much in the 90 minutes without his presence in the game.
On the contrary, when Uruguayan was injured, the Catalans managed to score goals as easily, if not more –– especially during his injury at the start of the season ––, in his absence. Hence, clearly, the Barcelona man is contributing relatively less than Lewy. Nonetheless, to prove this, the Friday night encounter between both centre-forwards will be electrifying. Presumably, Lewandowski’s better form and exceptional skills will give a tough time to his counterpart Suárez.
Midfield encounter: Müller and Thiago vs Busquets and De Jong
The strength of the Germans in this clash will be their midfield. However, in a way, their strength could be made their weakness if the 34-time Spanish champions start taking advantage of the half-spaces, overloading the midfield.
According to this season’s statistics, Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets has two assists whereas Thomas Müller is taking the lead here by having 20 assists so far. Talking about passes leading to a shot on goal, Müller is again leaving Busquets behind with 38 key passes while the former has 11 passes in his plate. While Sergio created 13 chances, Müller is winning the race by creating 58 chances in this season. When it comes to goals, the Spanish midfielder scored two goals and recorded four shots on goals. Whereas, the German professional is once again ahead there with 8 goals and 19 shots on target.
It is obvious, though, that the positions and roles of Busquets, a single pivot, and Thomas Müller, a Raumdeuter or space interpreter, are completely different. Their stats are very distinct, and it is normal and incomparable. What is clear, though, is that Sergio and Müller will face each other frequently throughout the match as it will be a duel that could define the tie. Bayern’s number 25 will look to occupy the spaces behind Busquets and in front of Barça’s centre-backs, while Sergio will be in charge of minimising those gaps. In a battle for space between two players mostly defined by their spatial awareness, whoever takes control of such position will be closer to coming out victorious.
“I don’t enjoy being classed as a striker. I don’t see myself as one. I like to be active in space in behind the opposition’s midfield. That’s where I can hurt the opponent most of all. I’m a mix between a striker and a midfielder”
Certainly, on the other side, Frenkie de Jong will be facing Thiago Alcântara. Graduated from La Masía, Thiago is considered to be the champion of the German champions’ attacks. Meanwhile, De Jong proved himself as a strong midfielder with his exceptional recent performance on Saturday against Napoli. Records say, Frenkie has two goals and four assists in 41 matches with Barcelona and Thiago has two assists and three goals in 37 games for Die Roten.
Müller is, undoubtedly considered to be a key component when he plays centrally for Bavarians. On the contrary, Barcelona has a good press-resistant midfield duo in the form of Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong. Without De Jong, Busquets won’t be able to handle the German midfielders. In an ideal situation, if the Barça midfielders overcome Bayern’s first line of defence, this will create an edge for them since Lionel Messi will be there to receive and show the magic. However, to avoid that, Hansi Flick’s men will be playing a very important role here to take hold of the opponents. While Thiago may be marking Messi, Müller will need to disconnect the midfield by taking over Barcelona’s tandem and pressing them.
Perhaps Müller can appear around the deepest-lying midfielder of Quique Setién’s duo. Chances are that with his passion and devotion he might limit the influence of the culés by making them lose possession there.
Germany’s best keeper: Ter Stegen vs Neuer
Besides both Marc-André ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer being world-class goalkeepers, last year their rivalry turned bitter in a tussle to become Germany’s number one. Thirty-four-year-old Neuer is considered to be one of the best keepers of this era. On the contrary, twenty-eight-year-old Ter Stegen is often said to be “Lionel Messi with gloves on”.
Lately, this battle of becoming Die Mannschaft‘s number one came to a rest only to get fuelled ahead of the Barça vs Bayern clash in the Champions League quarter-finals this season. This will be an interesting sight. As per the figures of the current season of the European competition, Barcelona’s number 1 conceded five goals in seven games, keeping two clean sheets. By contrast, in eight games, Manuel Neuer conceded six goals and kept four clean sheets.
“Germany is fortunate to have this pair of goalkeepers, although Neuer is truly world-class and Ter Stegen is still on his way to that level”
Bayern legend and current CEO
On the line, Ter Stegen has set some fabulous stats in the current Champions League season by saving 82.1 percent of shots whereas Neuer had a 75 percentage. When it comes to the foot, playmaker Neuer has registered an average of 41 passes per game, leaving behind Ter Stegen’s 28 passes per 90 minutes.
“Which coach isn’t going to play his best players out on the pitch? I don’t have any doubts I’m the best, even if I’m not 17 anymore”
dismissing Ter Stegen as competition for the starting spot in Germany
Both goalkeepers give each other neck-to-neck competition. Nonetheless, Friday’s night may be decisive to obtain a long-awaited answer: who of these two is the best German goalkeeper?
Messi vs the Bavarians
The enthralling encounter on Friday might bring flashbacks of the Barcelona star who was all fired up to win the 2014 World Cup. The situation is pretty much the same for this match as well: one match, neutral ground and no lead for anyone. While the German champions have a well-built team, with determination and will to win this battle, their greatest fear might give advantage to the culés: Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini.
Bayern are unbeaten in the last 27 competitive matches during the year 2020 –– making a notable record for the Germans by winning each of the last eighteen games. Interesting, yes? But this impressive figure can be taken with a small pinch of salt given that the Bavarians are yet to face the Argentine in this run of form.
Although facts say that Bayern are favourites to dominate this game and it is not justified to say that the alien magic alone will be enough to help Barcelona reach the semi-finals, the blaugranas will never give up on their hope of Lionel Messi taking the whole pressure on his shoulders and winning the game single-handedly against Flick’s eleven.
Determining Barcelona’s best line-up for the Clasico
El Clásico is the biggest club rivalry in the world as its links with Spanish history make it more and more heated year after year. In recent years, Barcelona came out on top in most fixtures with Ernesto Valverde having one of the most impressive records against Real Madrid. The likes of Pep Guardiola, Gerardo Martino, and Luis Enrique, too, all have El Clásico nights they’ll surely remember for as long as they’re alive. This weekend, Ronald Koeman takes on Madrid for the first time.
Who starts? Who sits? Koeman has a lot of thinking to do. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
The aforementioned coaches had set teams with players such as Samuel Eto’o, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, and Carles Puyol at their disposal and they went to play Madrid deeper into the season than where Ronald Koeman is now. For example, in the 2-1 win at Camp Nou, where Luis Suarez scored the winner, Luis Enrique went into the game off the back of a superb run of fixtures and knew which team would start the game.
Due to the recent crisis, Ronald Koeman comes into his first El Clásico with, perhaps, some blank spaces as his team is in a transition period. After a loss against Getafe on the weekend, Koeman’s side demolished Ferencvaros in the Champions League, helping the squad gain morale. That said, he will have to thing hard and through about the team selection, otherwise it could come back to hurt the team in an important game.
With Marc-Andre ter Stegen out injured, there is little time that Neto will start this game. He has been solid so far for the Catalan giants, so it is far from being a problem for Ronald Koeman. In the defence, Koeman has other fish to fry, and the right-back position is a much more problematic one.
Roberto usually puts on a show against Madrid – but is that enough to warrant a starting spot? (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)
With Jordi Alba out for the recent few games, Sergiño Dest started the last two fixtures on the left, but the former Valencia defender is expected to be back for El Clásico, which raises doubts over who starts on the right. Rushing Alba back is not the most intelligent decision, but the defender was rumoured to be ready to play the Hungarians on Tuesday, and Koeman might have taken his left-back out of the team to start him against Madrid.
If Alba starts, which he’ll most likely do, Koeman cannot overlook Dest’s recent performances, and he should start ahead of Sergi Roberto, who isn’t in his best run of form.
With the two full-backs sorted, Koeman will surely start his best centre-back pairing in Gérard Piqué and Clément Lenglet since they’re fully fit for the game.
The former Everton manager has a clear plan at Barça, and he’s played a 4-2-3-1 in every game as Barça coach. Frenkie de Jong is a constant in the double pivot, starting every game and will undoubtedly feature against Zinedine Zidane’s side.
An experienced head alongside de Jong shoulders. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
However, Koeman hasn’t found de Jong’s partner in midfield yet, and Miralem Pjanic’s performance against Ferencvaros was from his best. Sergio Busquets began every game prior to this one under his new coach, so getting him back in the side after rest might tempt Koeman. De Jong looked comfortable alongside both players but was evidently freer next to Pjanic. That said, it looks like a far call to see him start again.
For the mediapunta or attacking midfielder, role, Philippe Coutinho will take up that place as he confirmed his superb start to the term with a great goal against the Hungarians. Pedri should get some minutes as his recent outings have been spectacular. The former Las Palmas midfielder will undoubtedly come on, regardless of the scoreline.
Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, and he showed more intent against Ferencvaros and will most definitely start against his favourite opponents. As for the left-wing, Ansu Fati has been on fire this term and, with his performance on Tuesday has cemented his place in the starting lineup.
The big debate takes place on the right, where three players fight for the right-winger position. Ousmane Dembélé, Francisco Trincão, and Antoine Griezmann are the three players in contention to start El Clásico.
Griezmann is going through a rough patch, and while he needs all the confidence in the world, mustn’t be in the Catalan giants’ XI for the most significant encounter of the season yet.
With the World Cup winner out of the conversation, Trincão and Dembélé – both of whom made heads turn against Ferencvaros are in pole position to be the third attacker in the lineup. Trincão started the game against the Hungarians, impressing on the right, but was not efficient enough as he did not score or assist on the night.
However, a lot of attacks came from his side, something that did not happen when Griezmann was in the eleven. Dembélé, who replaced the Portuguese, was a welcomed addition to the side and his piece of skill before assisting Pedri was a joy to watch. His easy goal shouldn’t make him a clear favourite, but his performance made his chances of starting rise.
Fati has been marshaling the Barcelona attack this season – will he do it again against Madrid? (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
Nonetheless, Dembélé is recovering from a long-term injury and lacks match sharpness right now. The Frenchman could be an impact sub for Trincão or Fati as his pace might terrify the tired legs of fellow Frenchman Ferland Mendy. That said, Koeman could start the 23-year-old against Madrid, subbing him off early for a more lethal finisher like Griezmann.
Barça Universal’s Starting XI against Madrid:
Dest – Pique – Lenglet – Alba
Busquets – De Jong
Trincāo – Coutinho – Fati