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The Guardian: Barcelona v Bayern Munich: Champions League semi-final – as it was

Bayern are put out of their misery, with Barcelona having made huge strides towards booking their place in this year’s final by exacting sweet revenge on the Bundeliga winners for that hiding they got two years ago. A brace from Lionel Messi with a cherry on top from Neymar means it’ll be a very long way back from this one for Bayern in six days time.

With six Bayern Munich players in the Barcelona half, the ref plays a great advantage after a foul on Luis Suarez. The ball breaks to Messi, who plays it into space for Neymar who finds himself one on one with Neuer. He makes no mistake, dummying the keeper before slotting the ball past him into the middle of the goal.

90+1 min: I’ve just seen that second Messi goal again. The manner in which he dumps Boateng on his backside with a little shimmy as he ghosts past him is just superb. The finish was inch perfect too, as it needed to be to beat a Manuel Neuer who was still on his feet as the ball was chipped over his head. These are Bayern Munich players Messi is making look foolish, not training cones or toddlers in a kindergarten playground.

90 min: There’ll be four minutes of added time, or thereabouts.

88 min: Barcelona substitution: Javier Mascherano off, Marc Bartra on. For those wondering, Barcelona’s Rafinha is the brother of Bayern Munich’s Thiago. I wonder who their World Cup-winning father Mazinho makes of it all?

85 min: Barcelona substitution: Andres Iniesta off, Rafinha on.

84 min: Barcelona substitution made just after the goal: Ivan Rakitic off, Xavi on.

82 min: Luis Suarez shoots high and wide from a tight angle. Bayern are in all sorts of bother here; they’re really on the ropes.

Oh yeah, I called this one! Messi doubles Barca’s lead with an incredible goal. Picking up a pass from deep on the edge of the penalty area, he dumps Jerome boateng on his backside as he glides past him and then dinks a perfect little chip over Manuel Neuer (who is 6ft 3in) and into the goal from the corner of the six-yard box. Absolutely sublime finishing.

78 min: Bayern Munich substitution: Thomas Muller off, Mario Gotze on. There was some shambolic sloppiness from Jerome Boateng and Juan Bernat out on the right touchline in the build-up to that goal ... both gave the ball away.

Ha-ha! That shows how much I know! Messi fires Barcelona ahead with his first goal in the knockout stages of this tournament. Bernat gave the ball away out on the right touchline, where Dani Alves cut inside and played it to Messi a few yards outside the penalty area. He pulled the trigger and beat Neuer with a low drive from the edge of the penalty area.

73 min: Thiago and Bernat combine down the left flank for Bayern, as the German side continue to press and probe in search of opening. I could be wrong, but it seems glaringly apparent to me that Bayern’s players are a lot fitter than their Barcelona counterparts, who appear to be growing very weary. If that is the case, the longer the game goes on the more you’d fancy them to nick it.

71 min: Ooh! Thiago Alcantara unleashes a fizzing drive from the edge of the area that takes a wicked deflection off Pique’s knee. Luckily, the ricochet takes all the pace out of the wild shot, allowing the wrong-footed Ter Stegen to get down low to his left and save it.

69 min: Neymar sails close to the wind, squaring up to the referee over some perceived slight or other. Andres Iniesta drags him away, then the player gets booked. With a little over 20 minutes to go, it’s still scoreless and the game is being played with much the same intensity now as it was at the beginning., although it seems to me that Bayern’s players are putting in more of a shift, as far as Running About A Lot is concerned.

67 min: Gerard Pique gets booked for a tackle that took out both Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. Good work.

65 min: There’s a settled pattern to the game now, which suggests there’s a big opportunity for either manager to make one crucial positive change. Look, even Michael Cox agrees with me.

Settled pattern to the game now, big opportunity for either manager to make one crucial positive change

63 min: Running into a pocket of space on the edge of the Bayern penalty area, Rakitic plays the ball left to Neymar. The Brazilian shifts the ball on to his right foot and tries a shot, but sends the ball blazing high and wide.

Neuer more lucky than brilliant that time. Neymar should have got to the ball first. Very risky.

60 min: Brilliant play from Dani Alves, who performs heroics to take the ball off Bernat deep inside his own half and then go on a galloping run up the pitch before picking out Lionel Messi. With Bayern up in numbers, he plays the ball into space behind what’s left of the defence for Neymar to chase. Sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer charges out of his goal to beat Neymar to the ball and avert the danger.

58 min: Messi gets on the ball again, leaving a trail of defenders in his wake before firing off a shot from the edge of the penalty area. Neuer saves comfortably.

57 min: Messi turns Juan Bernat this way and thatwith a skittish run down the right before being brought down by the left-back. Yellow card.

56 min: Thiago Alcantara attempts to set off on a counter-attack, only to be fouled by Ivan Rakitic, who is lucky to escape a booking.

55 min: In the Barca penalty area, Mascherano gets in front of Thomas Muller to head a Robert Lewandowski cross from the left out for a corner. Bayern’s front pair are playing brilliantly tonight ... even if Lewandowski should have scored in the first half.

A game in which even the two goalies are good at football and pushing as high up the pitch as they can ...

52 min: Medhi Benatia is harshly booked for what looked like an accidental collision with Andres Iniesta, which sends the Barcelona midfielder sprawling. I’m not so sure it was even a foul, let alone one worthy of a booking.

50 min: Bayern ping the ball around the edge of the Barcelona penalty area, with Barcelona’s defenders happy to sit back and admire them.

49 min: Free-kick on the halfway line, for a Suarez foul on Alonso. It’s come at a good time for Bayern, who were under a bit of pressure.

48 min: From the corner, the ball’s floated into the penalty area by Alonso, where Ter Stegen gathers comfortably.

47 min: Alonso shoots low and hard, hoping the wall will jump. They don’t and the ball cannons out for a Bayern corner.

46 min: Free-kick for Bayern on the edge of the Barcelona penalty area, for a Dani Alves foul on Lewandowski. Itr’s left of centre, about a yard outside the area. Over to you, Xabi Alonso ...

Barcelona get the second half started. I’ll be astonished if this second half is as (a) good or (b) scoreless as the first. Barcelona play the ball back to Marc-Andre ter Stegen, with Lewandowski and Muller pressing hard trying to force the error.

It’s worth clicking on Coxy’s timeline to see the replies from various fanboys and tactics nerds who are trying ever so hard to impress him by sounding very knowledgable and chin stroke-y, but falling a little short. Bless their little false nine inside-out trequartista socks.

Personally think the formation switch was probably pre-planned - remember Guardiola doing similar, with Barca, at Bernabeu in 2011...

...kinda makes sense, can press intensely in early stages, then switch and play with a sweeper, because you can't press like that for 90

In the Sky Sports Studio: Two of the assembled pundits - Thierry Henry and Jamie Carragher - are stopping just short of calling Pep Guardiola stupid for playing threev three against Neymar, Messi and Suarez, but Jamie Redknapp is getting off the fence. “I think it’s stupid,” he says. “It’s footballing suicide.” They got away with it for 16 minutes before he saw the error of his ways and switched to a back four. This should be a fascinating second half.

Half-time: The referee blows for the interval, where it somehow remains scoreless. That was a fascinating 45 minutes of football where both teams could and hsould have scored. Barcelona, in particular, will be astonished they haven’t troubled the scoreboard operator thus far.

43 min: Robert Lewandowski is picked out on the edge of the Barcelona penalty area by a fine pass from Xabi Alonso. Rather than try his luck with a shot, he attempts to play in Thomas Muller with a little dink, but makes a mess of the pass. Barcelona clear.

42 min: That beautifully measured ball I mentioned two entries ago was played by Andres Iniesta. Of course it was - who else would it have been?

41 min: Ivan Rakitic tries his luck with a snap-shot that zips wide of the left upright.

38 min: Manuel Neuer saves brilliantly, sticking a foot out to block a Dani Alves volley on goal from close range. Both players did splendidly there, as did whoever it was that picked out Alves with a beautifully measured ball over the Bayern defence. I think it was Neymar, but I’ll need to see it again.

37 min: Bernat is penalised for a foul on Luis Suarez just to the right of the Bayern penalty area. Free-kick for Barcelona, which Messi whips into the area. The ball’s headed out for a throw-in.

35 min: From the free-kick, Lionel Messi curls the ball over the wall, but Manuel Neuer is quick across his line to grab it. I don’t know if Alonso was booked in a case of mistaken identity or for dissent, but he’s on a yellow nonetheless.

33 min: Juan Bernat gives the ball away on the edge of the final third, but manages to get away with it. Moments later, Xabi Alonso gets booked for what seemed to be a Jerome Boateng foul on Lionel Messi. Free-kick for Barca, about 30 yards from the Bayern goal, a bit right of centre.

31 min: This will be like JFK’s assassination and the moon-landing. “Where were you when Pep Guardiola played three at the back for 16 whole minutes against Neymar, Messi and Suarez?” they’ll ask.

30 min: Thiago Alcantara sends a looping ball from deep towards Lewandowski and Muller at the far post, but puts too much welly on his pass and berates himself when it sails high and wide. Bayern are getting battered here, but still looking dangerous on the break.

29 min: Well, nothing apart from Luis Suarez heading over the bar from about six yards,. Almost at the half-hour mark and it seems a miracle that nobody has scored yet. It’s a wonderfully entertaining match.

25 min: Jordi Alba sprints down the left flank to get on the end of a long ball from Mascherano. He sends it into the middle, where Jerome Boateng hacks the ball out for a corner. Nothing comes of it.

24 min: Barcelona attack on the break, with Suarez spraying the ball forward to Messi. He attempts to pick out Neymar in the middle, but his pass is blocked.

22 min: Bayern win a free-kick about 35 yards from the Barcelona goal, almost dead centre, for a Mascherano foul on Muller. Xabi Alonso’s free-kick is straight from the training ground, which is where it should have stayed. It seems several of his team-mates missed the rehearsals.

20 min: Rakitic plays the ball wide to Dani Alves on the right touchline, deep in Bayern territory. He plays the ball to Messi on the right side of the penatly area and the little Argentinian shimmies his way past three defenders before unleashing a shot-cum-cross that curled harmlessly wide of the far upright.

18 min: Brilliant work from Thomas Muller down the right, who does well to hold off Jordi Alba and drill the ball low and hard across the face of Barcelona’s goal. Robert Lewandowski slides in but fails to make contact by this much. He should have scored.

17 min: After quarter of an hour, Pep sees the error of his ways and switches to a back four. Jonathan Wilson will probably write a 600-page book on that opening 16 minutes.

14 min: Barcelona squander a glorious scoring opportunity when Luis Suarez rides two challenges down the left side of the Bayern penalty area and squares the ball for Neymar. The Brazilian gets on the end of the cross, but his effort hits Raffinha and veers off target.

13 min: In the Sky Sports commentary box, Martin Tyler asks Gary Neville when he last saw tactics like those being employed by Pep Guardiola tonight. “I’ve never seen ... this,” comes the reply.

10 min: Bayern Munich seem to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth a bit here, with Raffinha, Jerome Boateng and Medhi Benatia given the onerous task of stopping Barcelona’s three amigos. There’s acres of space for Barcelona to play the ball into and we get a demonstration of just how much now. The ball’s played forward to Suarez, who races through on goal, attempts to shoot into the bottom left-hand corner, only to be foiled by Manuel Neuer’s outstretched right leg.

6 min: Barcelona break on a counter-attack and Bayern, who are playing a back three, with defenders man-marking Messi, Neymar and Suarez. They alm ost get caught out as Messi breaks forward and plays the ball to Suarez, who shoots weakly at Neuer.

5 min: The game has yet to settle into any kind of rhythm, but Barcelona go on the attack down the right, courtesy of Ivan Rakitic. Play switches to the other side of the pitch, where Bayern win possession and embark on a counter-attack. The ball finds its way to Lewandowski, whose weak shot from outside the area is blocked.

3 min: Bayern’s players wear white shirts with burgundy stripes, white shorts and white socks. Barcelona are in their usual attire. Luis Suarez goes down in the penalty area under what looked like a shove from Jerome Boateng and appeals for a penalty, but doesn’t get one. He was chasing a through ball that was always going to get to Manuel Neuer before Suarez could get to it.

2 min: Neymar gets penalised for offside as the ball is played forward, in behind the Bayern Munich defence. Bayern Munich are using a high press, with Rafinha playing as a centre-back and - if I’m not very much mistaken, Philipp Lahm playing in the centre of midfield.

1 min: Robert Lewandowski gets the ball rolling for Bayern Munich. He was concussed eight days ago, has a broken jaw and a broken nose. He shouldn’t be playing in my humble opinion, but there you go.

Nearly there: Now the Champions League anthem is played as the teams line up either side of the referee and go through the pre-match niceties. Pep Guardiola emerges and takes his place in the away dug-out. Oh Pep.

Not long now: The teams are in the tunnel and the Barcelona anthem, El Cant del Barça, is blaring out over the PA. Less than five minutes to go until what should be a wonderful game of football kicks off.

Having finished their warm-up: Barcelona’s players congregate for a quick huddle and retire to the dressing room, where presumably they’ll have another huddle and then go out to play the match shortly having yet another huddle. On Sky Sports, Jamie Carragher is saying that he doesn’t think Barcelona have “world class defenders”. He says Javier Mascherano is a world class midfielder, but not a world class central defender. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I can kind of see where he’s coming from. Alongside him, Thierry Henry says that “the first 20 minutes will be hell for Bayern Munich”. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I can kind of see where he’s coming from.

Prediction time: Barcelona are a little under even money for tonight’s match, which seems like fantastic value ... and yet ... and yet ... I have a feeling that Bayern Munich, despite the absence of key personnel, might leave Camp Nou with a draw or win tonight. I’ll keep my money in my pocket and go for a 2-2 draw. Obviously I could be talking complete ...

@bglendenning Is that Dani Alves or Duckie? pic.twitter.com/cwkWGQzbxW

“Rod Stewart is the first reader to be published on your MBM?” he writes. “Some guys have all the luck.” Honk. One for the dads, there.

He writes about the abberation that is half-and-half football scarves: “Thiago Alcântara’s has never seen that scarf stall, based on Sid Lowe’s interview in the Guardian: ‘His heart will be divided,’ Thiago says of his father, in the canteen at Bayern’s training ground. ‘He’ll have to get two scarves, cut them in half and sew them together, Barcelona one side, Bayern the other…’.”

Barcelona: ter Stegen, Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Subs: Bravo, Xavi, Pedro, Rafinha, Bartra, Adriano, Vermaelen.

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Rafinha, Benatia, Boateng, Bernat, Alonso, Muller, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Thiago, Lewandowski.

The Barcelona right-back has arrived for the game wearing a red blazer, white shirt, black bow-tie and a pair of shades. Has he lost a bet? Is he the coolest man alive? Is he serving the drinks in one of the corporate boxes?

What it says up there - Robert Lewandowski will start for Bayern Munich, on the front of a three with Thomas Muller to his right and THiago Alcantara to his left. Philipp Lahm and Bastien Schweinsteiger will play either side of Xabi Alonso in midfield. I’ll have the line-ups in full just as soon as they appear on the wires.

Hello everybody. Welcome to our minute-by-minute coverage of the Champions League semi-final first leg between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, which sees the return of Pep Guardiola to Camp Nou for the first time since he returned there in March with his father Valentí , to watch his former club beat Manchester City. While Barcelona manager Lionel Messi Luis Enrique has a full squad to choose from, tonight Pep arrives at the stadium in charge of a team reasonably ravaged by injury, with David Alaba, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Holger Badstuber all sidelined. Robert Lewandowski remains a major doubt after fracturing his nose and jaw in last week’s German Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund.

Lewandowski remains hopeful of playing, but should he sit this one out, Guardiola may play Thomas Muller as a lone striker or field elderly Peruvian Claudio Pizarro, who has failed to score in his 13 appearances for Bayern this season. Alternatively, he could play Mario Goetze as a False Nine (Or indeed a False Nein). Speaking of which, here’s a short film with Jonathan Wilson on the two teams and the evolution of Pep. Kick-off is at 7.45pm (BST) and we’ll be here long before that with team news and build-up.

Continue reading...

(The Guardian)

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