It’s a match suitable for a European final between two of the titans of world football. It’s a game that features global brands, sport superstars, and as much history as any showdown in the Champions League. However, Friday’s Champions League quarter-finals, which you can stream exclusively on CBS All Access, between Barcelona and Bayern Munich are vastly different from most of the fixtures in the past two decades. We almost always think of these two, but Barca are clearly not going to the showdown.
Barcelona have recently stumbled and lost the league to Real Madrid after winning just five times in their last nine games. Bayern Munich have now won 19 games in a row, won the Bundesliga and the German Cup and entered this game as a favorite.
So what exactly are Barca up to and what do they have to do to keep going? Here’s what you should know:
Why is Barcelona the underdog?
It is really very simple. Barca have been inconsistent since the game resumed in June while Bayern were the strongest team in the world, which obviously makes them favorites. Bayern Munich are a -106 favorite, according to William Hill Sportsbook, while Barca have +255 odds of winning.
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Forget that Bayern have won 19 games in a row – they are actually undefeated in their last 24 games, conceding 0.54 goals per game while scoring 65 goals in those games. They were dominant, knocked opponents out of the water and are arguably the strongest team left. While Bayern were perfect, Barca lost to Osasuna and dragged Celta Vigo down the track to confess the league title to their bitter rivals.
What are Bayern doing so well?
Bayern dominate on both ends but if you look closer you can see what makes them effective. You love to hold on to the ball and when you do it is obviously harder for the opposing team to score. They usually have more possession than the other team, but what the attack does to create opportunities is key.
Here is a highlight from Bayern’s 4-1 win against Chelsea in last week’s round of 16. Check out the quick pass and how star striker Robert Lewandowski sees the space in defense, makes the perfect run and is found after a short pass that shows how in sync they are:
Here’s another clip from the same game when Corentin Tolisso scored for Bayern. Again Chelsea’s defense leaves room and he runs into the heart of the box.
What does this have to do with Barca? Well Barca have a defense that sometimes shows a lack of focus and form so the players can find that space and create opportunities. If they’re not consistently sharp, this can get ugly.
Bayern can break you if you play fantastic defense but if you give them space they will hurt you ruthlessly. Barca have to be careful.
What do Barca have to do to beat them?
Barca have to be very careful on the defensive as Bayern can beat you in a number of ways. Staying in shape, staying defensively compact, and tracking runners is critical.
Check out Jordi Alba’s position in the 3-1 win over Napoli last week in the last 16. Do that against Bayern and they will take advantage of it. It’s in the red circle and it should be in the blue circle.
But of course you can’t win if you don’t score. Barca should feel confident seeing a fair bit of the ball but it won’t be easy. While Lionel Messi has the magic of turning a game upside down at any moment, the odds must be something else. Be it an unexpected, strong performance by Antoine Griezmann or Luis Suarez, who play like 2016. Who will perform next to Messi? For that to matter at all, defense has to come into play.
It’s hard to imagine a Barca team having to focus on defense first, but Bayern are more threatening than any team Quique Setien has faced this season. Barca will get their chances and they will move forward to get their way but Bayern will likely get more opportunities and Barca’s defense has to be perfect. Barca need to limit mistakes and play with caution in order to have a chance to move on.