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The biggest event on the footballing calendar is drawing close, and we’re at the last stop on the road to Berlin. With excitement coming close to fever pitch, we at Outside of the Boot decided to get a closer look at the challenges and opportunities each team will face at this stage. Here are the opinions of our writers.

UCL Bayern


 

What were/are your expectations out of this season’s Champions League campaign?

Shantanu Paranjpe: At the start of the season, Champions league finals. But even quarter finals would have been fine for me with the long list of absentees.

Alankrith Shankar: At the start of the season, we were placed in the group of death, but I was quite confident that we will make it out as group winners, which we did. Like every Bayern fan, I’ve been accustomed to high expectations from the team in recent years, that making it to the semis has become a failure. At the start of the season, I expected Pep to deliver us the 6th CL title and it did seem very much possible until the away fixture at Porto. Currently, maybe doesn’t seem all that probable, but I am still hopeful of Bayern making it to the final at least.


How confident are you about Bayern making it to the grand final?

Shantanu Paranjpe: I don’t underestimate the quality of the remaining squad of Bayern, although Barcelona have a slight edge as their forwards have clicked at the right time and Andres Iniesta is in form again. So I would say 49% chance for Bavarians. Of course, a more accurate mathematical estimate could be found at a place like bonus.org.uk.

Alankrith Shankar: To be honest, I don’t know how confident I am. For the first time in the last 4 years, I do not have a single clue as to what I can expect from the team. We are missing key players in the starting 11, but we do have a quality side and this side is strong enough to get a positive result at Camp Nou which we can look to build on, back at home in the return leg.


Real Madrid and Barcelona are obviously vastly different teams but will last year’s thumping at this stage have an effect on Guardiola’s approach?

Shantanu Paranjpe: Of course. Guardiola should be optimistic about this game looking at the display of his team against Porto in the second leg. But he should play smarter than playing a high line of defense and committing too many men forward like he did against Madrid. I hope he will take something from Bayern’s victory over Barca two years ago. A draw at Camp Nou will also be like a win as it will put the pressure back on Barca who still haven’t wrapped up the league.

Alankrith Shankar: I certainly hope so. Whatever tactics Pep seemed to be adamant on last season, backfired majorly. We showed no character.  But this time it’s Barcelona. Familiar faces for Pep. Even though Barcelona play a different style under Luis Enrique, Pep should know the key areas to exploit in the Barcelona side. I am confident Pep will employ the right tactics this time round. Else, God save the club. Not 2 seasons since we won the treble and Pep hasn’t taken us to the heights we hoped if he does get knocked out once again in the semis.


Is it going to be viable for Guardiola to play a back 3 against potentially the most threatening trio of forwards in the world?

Shantanu Paranjpe: Playing a back 3 would be a better option to absorb Barca’s pressing. Bayern played like this in 1-0 win over Dortmund in Bundesliga last month. Dante, too, plays very well in a back 3.

Alankrith Shankar: I don’t think it will come down to a 3 man back line. Yes, Rafinha should not start, as reliable as he is in the Bundesliga, he isn’t capable of controlling Messi or Neymar. Lahm should move to the RB role in a standard 4 man backline and add some much needed stability to it. Lahm – Boateng – Benatia – Bernat does have a much better ring to it than Rafinha – Boateng – Benatia – Bernat or any 3 man backline you can think of at this moment.


With all the injuries, what tactical options does Pep realistically have?

Shantanu Paranjpe: A tight defense, packed midfield and counter attack seems to be the best option. Width will be the key for Bayern’s tactics against Catalans. The team which wins the midfield battle will have better chance of winning the game. A 3-4-1-2 will be a good option with Bernat and Rafinha/Weiser as wingbacks. But Pep is full of surprises. Hard to predict the tactics and the consequent result.

Alankrith Shankar: If I were Pep, I would go for 4-1-4-1

Neuer;
Lahm – Boateng – Benatia – Bernat;
Schweinsteiger;
Muller – Thiago – Xabi – Gotze;

Lewandowski

The other option Pep does have is 4-1-3-2

Neuer;
Lahm – Boateng – Benatia – Bernat;

Schweinsteiger;

Thiago – Xabi – Gotze;

Muller – Lewandowski

IF Ribery does make it back in time, Pep will also have the luxury of a 4-2-3-1

Neuer;

Lahm – Boateng – Benatia – Bernat;

Schweinsteiger – Thiago;

Muller – Gotze – Ribery;

Lewandowski

Three systems we have used previously under Pep this season and hopefully is enough to get a positive result at Barcelona.

With the attacking trio of Barcelona at their best currently this season, we will need a CDM shielding the back 4 while acting as a deep lying playmaker. Xabi and Schweinsteiger can both play that role brilliantly. So we can hope for good movement between attacking and defending roles for the 2 veterans.


Defensively, who is the key man to stop the terrific trio that Barcelona have?

Shantanu Paranjpe: Jerome Boateng. If he has a game like World Cup final and the other defenders complement him well, it will be difficult for Barcelona to score goals like they did against PSG.

Philipp Lahm’s leadership will matter too as the team needs huge confidence boost after Pokal loss.

Alankrith Shankar: We need to cut the supply lines to Luis Suarez. This can be achieved majorly by stopping in the crosses from the wings. Defensively, Lahm who should start as RB will play the most important role and will need to be on top of his game. While young Juan Bernat can’t make a single mistake too. Boateng and Benatia will have to be on top of their aerial games as well. There is no single key man. The whole backline is key in stopping Barcelona. More importantly, Manuel Neuer needs to play the game of his life, similar to the ones v France, Algeria and Argentina.


Finally, your prediction for the tie?

Shantanu Paranjpe: 1-1 draw in the first leg, and a 2-1 win to Barcelona in the second.

Alankrith Shankar: Away: FC Barcelona 2:1 FC Bayern. Home: FC Bayern 2:1 FC Barcelona. Bayern through on Penalties. Hope to redeem ourselves for the recent disappointment v Dortmund.


 

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