Epic - Bayern v Barca

Posted by Susie Schaaf

Bayern Munich teed-up for Tuesday's Barcelona showdown in Hannover, beating the home team 6-1 on Saturday, without noteable absentees Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dante. The pair, along with the injured Mario Mandzukic, did not even make the trip. But there was one other absence noted in the AWD Arena stands: Bayern president Uli Hoeness.

Hoeness, who until a few weeks ago had not missed a Bayern match since 2000, stayed in Munich as news broke that he is currently under investigation for tax fraud regarding a Swiss account.

- Tomas: Time for Barca to shine
- Pep will support Barca, Xavi says
- Mueller primed for Barcelona showdown
- Roura: Messi could be fit for Bayern clash


Often maligned as arrogant (although there is truth to that statement), he transformed himself from player, to general manager, and finally president of Bayern Munich. Along the way, he transformed the club from a German to a global footballing powerhouse -- one of five billion dollar clubs -- with finances that draw worldwide envy.

Ironic, now, that his personal finances are under scrutiny.

However, I am a football writer -- not a German tax expert -- so instead of opining on things I admittedly know nothing about, I will point you in the direction of Mark Lovell's article in The Munich Eye and fellow ESPN FC correspondent Stephan Uersfeld's coverage here.

The Hoeness narrative will be interesting over the next couple of weeks as Bayern Munich take on Barcelona in Champions League semifinal play. But for now, the players seem to not be distracted by the FC Hollywood hoopla, instead fully concentrating on the grand task ahead. "This is it! We want to crown our season, so we'll go to the limit in every respect, myself included," said Thomas Mueller to fcbayern.de.

Dante said in an interview to The Guardian's Rafael Honigstein: "Barcelona have a great team, the greatest show on earth. But we are at our best at this moment in time, and we certainly won't change our game for them. We don't change for anyone." But in a match where two teams play very similar styles -- possession-based control football -- either Bayern or Barca will be forced to play outside their usual territory -- 120 per cent average possession being mathematically impossible.

There are weaknesses in the juggernaut that is Barcelona that can be exploited, however, and some small details might prove the difference for Bayern Munich on their treble quest.

Height comparisons are the most obvious, with Barcelona regarded to be the shortest team, on average, in Europe at five feet 10 inches. Their Bayern counterparts -- the diminutive Philipp Lahm, Xherdan Shaqiri and Franck Ribery notwithstanding -- tower over them by nearly three inches. This may prove useful when Bayern concede corners and free kicks, their biggest weakness. At the other end of the pitch, it should prove to be an advantage on set pieces with only Sergio Busquets, Marc Bartra, Gerard Pique and Alex Song at six foot-plus.

Barcelona's make-shift back four is widely regarded to be one of their worst in years. Long-term injuries to Captain Caveman-esque Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano have left the Blaugrana without a true rock in central defense. Although Eric Abidal was man-of-the-match in their narrow win over Levante on the weekend, it was just his first start after coming back from a liver transplant.

Busquets is likely to stand alone in front of his back line, and the super-talented (and super-floppy) holding midfielder will be tasked with shoring up a shaky defense. Bothering Busquets with defense takes him out of his offensive role -- distributing attacks to Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

The words "world class" are bandied around too much in the football world, but you'll get no arguments that both squads are loaded with that sort of talent. The aforementioned Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets... Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller... But, the lynchpin for Bayern Munich is Bastian Schweinsteiger. And his battle with Xavi -- Barcelona's lynchpin -- may just go down as one of the most epic in history.

As Schweini goes, Bayern goes. Comparatively, Schweinsteiger has an 88.1 per cent pass rate, with two goals and three assists in this Champions League campaign; while Xavi has a 95.2 per cent pass rate, with one goal and four assists.

In the end, perhaps the most telling statistic is clinical finishing. Xavi said about Bayern: "[They] are probably the team best in form in Europe." Munich, while hammering opposition's nets all season long -- in all competitions -- was seen to be wasteful in not converting their excellent chances. But, looking statistically at both squads last three matches, Bayern comes up on the right side of things.

In their past three matches, Bayern has taken 22 shots on goal, with 16 goals scored, for a success rate for a nearly 73 per cent. And Barcelona, in their past three, have taken 17 shots on goal, with five scored, for 29 percent. Can a not-wholly-fit Lionel Messi be the difference? Only time will tell.

But for now, it comes down to this. Bayern Munich. Barcelona. An epic battle ensues Tuesday.

Am I nervous? Yes. But, it's positive energy. You will, however, have to shoot me with a tranquilizer dart if I'm to get any sleep tonight. Auf geht's!

ESPN Conversations