By Harsh Shah
A match of unexplainable importance awaits two among the biggest teams in world football this Wednesday in the Champions League. Barcelona travel to Germany in the semi-final first-leg to take on a Bayern Munich side who have been top notch on all fronts this season. Chasing a possible treble, Bayern brushed aside one of the most technically strong teams in Europe in the form of Juventus by a four-goal margin in the previous round to re-assert their credentials as a superiorly gifted and efficient force who can counter any strategy laid against it. One of the major ploys which worked in order to thwart the Italians was Bayern's work on the wings. Enter Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, also known as 'Robbery'.
The Franco-Dutch duo was instrumental in exposing the fallacy in Juventus' 3-5-2 formation. Their onrushing wing-backs were countered by Bayern's own high line exploiting the gaps behind the former couple. The supposedly stellar midfield of the Old Lady was negated by a more aggressive and agile German charge which saw their forwards too combat back and frustrate the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
The result was a 4-0 demolition of the Italian champions over two legs which set up Bayern's date with the Spanish league-leaders Barcelona. The Blaugrana haven't had an ideal European campaign so far with French table-toppers Paris Saint-Germain almost ousting them from the tournament in the quarters. They were able to halt Barcelona's swansong home and away, coming away with 2-2 and 1-1 draws and bowing out only on the away goals rule. Along with the scoreline, another cause for concern was their defence which was given a near-beating by the French team.
|LUCAS MOURA PROVIDED THE WRITING ON THE WALL BY OPENING UP ALBA|
PSG took a leaf out of Real Madrid's book and hit Barcelona on the break to devastating effect. Their Brazilian teenage superstar Lucas Moura completely owned Barcelona's left-back Jordi Alba over the two legs, proving to be a constant menace with his whirlwind pace and close control. He went from strength to strength as the tie grew older, not giving Alba a moment's peace. He even came close to scoring at the Nou Camp with a header for which he appeared out of nowhere, catching Alba unaware yet again. Seeing that, Robben and Ribery must be rubbing their palms, sensing a kill.
On Barcelona's other flank, Dani Alves too isn't that reassuring defensively. Though Alba and him have few challengers to their attacking claims as wing-backs, they are very much vulnerable while guarding their own goal. Ribery will be a much more threatening presence than PSG's Javier Pastore who even scored by running the Catalans wrinkled on the counter.
|Alba kept vying for the ball against Lucas to no avail|
Alves has on more than one occasion been scrappy when it comes to keeping out his opposite numbers, conceding silly fouls. Those set-pieces could go on to have a major say in games such as these given Barcelona's inefficiency in that aspect of their game and Bayern having a number of tall players in their ranks.
Keeping both wings in the balance, Alba's end may have to showcase some extra resistence come Wednesday. The Barca No. 18 will in all probability be given a run for his money by Robben who is one of the best dribblers in the game today. The former Real Madrid and Chelsea winger has a knack of cutting in and unleashing a shot/pass which could go on to be Alba's undoing.
|ALBA AND ALVES HAVE A REAL CHALLENGE ON THEIR HANDS AGAINST ROBBEN AND RIBERY|
Jupp Heynckes' side who have reached 2 Champions League finals in the last 4 years and losing both, having a fearless tactician like the German, could go with the same kind of approach employed against the Bianconeri. The wings should be Heynckes' trump card with the talented David Alaba and the evergreen Philipp Lahm provide able cover and armour respectively to Ribery and Robben. The Bavarians' reserves like Xherdan Shaqiri too are able replacements who have done exceedingly well in recent games. Pepper Barcelona's lopsided and unstable central defense onto this combination and you have a real game on your hands.
|YOU ARE MINE| Robben would have earmarked Alba's weaknesses|
Another reason why the challenge could end up going in 'Robbery''s favour is the fact that Alves and Alba's urge to go forward could end up altering their side's formation to something very similar to what Juventus lined up in. It could be even worse as it would leave only a two-man defence in front of Victor Valdes, meaning sure-shot trouble for Tito Vilanova's side.
This mouth-watering fixture throws up a lot possibilities in which the wings will be the focal point of sorts: Bayern pushing up from the outset and forcing an end-to-end duel; or it could be a case of the Germans sitting back and hitting Barcelona on the counter with their lethal pace and technique.
Going with the the Spanish side's shakiness this season and inability to grind out convincing results in previous rounds, the tide might just be turning in favour of the remarkably on-fire Germans.
Which wing will prevail? Bayern's or Barca's? Tell us who do you think will clinch this power struggle by placing a comment or getting in touch with the author @Harsh8Shah
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