Barcelona has been the dominant force in Europe for the greater part of the last decade. Semifinalists for the last six years, winners in 2009 and 2011 (as well as 2006), hailed as the greatest side in history by many and hitting huge heights under Pep Guardiola, the Catalans remain the team to beat, the best footballing side there is.
Yet there has been something of a decline since the departure of Guardiola, with Carles Puyol plagued with injuries, Xavi slowing down and problems on the bench in the absence of Tito Vilanova during his treatment for cancer. Even Lionel Messi has been injured.
|MADRID & BVB MEET AGAIN
|Madrid and Dortmund meet again after facing off in Group D earlier in the competition.
Then, Jose Mourinho's men lost 2-1 to Jurgen Klopp's side in Germany before an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu, when Mesut Ozil rescued a point for the home team with a free kick in the 89th minute.
Dortmund topped the group as Madrid finished second and Manchester City and Ajax were eliminated.
Dortmund left it late to knock out Malaga in the last eight and will have the psychological edge after the group results against Madrid. Real, meanwhile, will be looking to end its so-called 'German curse.' Los Blancos were defeated by Bayern in last year's semifinals and have suffered many poor results against Bundesliga teams in the past.
Bayern reached the final last season under Jupp Heynckes, but surprisingly lost out to Chelsea. The Munich side, then coached by Louis van Gaal, also finished as runners-up to Jose Mourinho's Inter in the 2010 showpiece in Madrid. The thinking behind Guardiola's appointment is clearly to get the best out a golden generation of players who have slightly underachieved at the very highest level.
In many ways, Bayern mirrors Barca. The Bavarians boast an exciting youth academy, a strong national core and something of a similar footballing philosophy. The club combines an ideal blend of youth and experience, is in excellent shape financially and completely wiped out an excellent Juventus side in the quarterfinals. And with Guardiola set to arrive in the summer, everything seems in place to make Bayern Europe's best.
In the meantime, however, question marks remain over the mental strength of a side that has failed to win as much as it should have in recent years.
Those questions can be answered now. Bayern has responded in style in the Bundesliga after missing out on the last two domestic titles to fellow Champions League semifinalists Borussia Dortmund, and it can also win the German cup to complete the treble with the continental triumph.
But the game against Barca represents their biggest test. Win it and Bayern could usher in an era of dominance on the continent similar to the one enjoyed by the Catalans in recent seasons. Lose out and the Blaugrana will remain Europe's dominant force - at least for another year.
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