Guardiola will be in the wrong Camp
Guardiola can't fix injury crisis or Barca's front three
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
BARCELONA v BAYERN MUNICH
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
Pep Guardiola walks among giants at Barcelona.
Schooled by the Catalans and cultivated by Cruyff, he went one better.
He played in a dream team and then coached the perfect team.
He updated a football institution until its image matched his own, elegant, charismatic, always committed and effortlessly cool.
He built modern Barcelona. He still bleeds Barcelona.
But he cannot beat Barcelona.
With a cruel twist of fate, Guardiola should again facilitate the Spanish giants' safe passage towards the Champions League final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
But he will do so from the Bayern Munich dugout.
The messianic adoration around the Nou Camp remains absolute, but Guardiola cannot turn water into wine if the glass is almost empty to begin with.
He has toiled with a wretched injury list since he joined Bayern two years ago.
In supply terms, the German side are parched at a time when Barcelona positively overflows with champagne football.
The Spanish side boast the finest front three in world football. Guardiola has rarely fielded the same attack twice.
Bayern's success in wrapping up the Bundesliga title early is a testament to their coach's unerring ability to play tactical chameleon.
He makes do with what he's got. At times, it hasn't been a lot.
When Guardiola embraces his former creative disciples Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez at the Nou Camp, he can only admire their good fortune.
This is Xavi's 17th season in Barcelona's first team. He and Iniesta seem to have been around forever, rarely injured, always pulling strings.
Bayern's boys, on the other hand, pull muscles.
In the almost 700 days that Guardiola has been in charge, he has never had an injury-free squad.
The Bayern coach has always had 25 per cent of his squad missing this season. The names change. The percentage doesn't.
Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and even Robert Lewandowski are either out or doubtful to face Barcelona.
Fluid football has often been sacrificed for first-aid football. At the age of 36, Claudio Pizarro led the line in Bayern's abject display at Bayer Leverkusen last weekend. The league winners went down 2-0.
In stark contrast, Barcelona warmed up with an 8-0 exhibition against Cordoba.
At a time when Guardiola is fighting to find 11 fit players, the Catalan side have found their street-fighting man.
Bayern's back-up goalkeeper Pepe Reina said it best because he knows him best. The "street player" is back.
And the German side are preoccupied with the pugnacious one.
Having played with him at Liverpool, Reina wearily acknowledged the resurgence of Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan street footballer performs at his best when he plays like one, chasing every ball, nipping at ankles, haranguing markers, exploiting tight spaces and scoring for kicks.
After the Cordoba stroll, Suarez left with the match ball under his arm and the back four in his pocket. The buck-toothed striker had that devilish grin back; the smile of a circling shark.
Suarez has 24 goals in all competitions, but 15 of those came this year.
It's no longer Lionel Messi and the rest. Against Cordoba, Suarez claimed a hat-trick, Messi bagged a brace and Neymar also scored. Six goals spread across the front three, making it 108 goals between them this season.
The semi-final should come with a weather warning. Messi, Neymar and Suarez are a certified tsunami.
Guardiola has already battened down the hatches to compensate for his side's injuries. Bayern conceded only 15 goals in 31 Bundesliga games - the best record of Guardiola's career.
He knows every flaw inside the Nou Camp, every creative kink, every potential weakness.
He may target Barcelona's right side, seeking space between Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, with Philipp Lahm once again babysitting Bayern's back four.
But when the game tilts in the home side's favour, the ball rolls towards Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Neymar, Suarez, Messi and Iniesta.
The equation seems simple. Bayern don't have the numbers.
Their manager returns to a spiritual home that has been extensively redecorated.
Barcelona are on the ascendancy; their highest point since Guardiola left in 2012.
Before kick-off, a warm welcome will remind the homecoming hero of his immortality at the Nou Camp.
But the final whistle may confirm that all managers are mortal, even Guardiola.
It is the same for both sides. Pep knows us very well and we know what he asks of his players. It is 50-50, we both know each other very well.
— Lionel Messi
Messi: Inside knowledge won't benefit Guardiola
Lionel Messi believes former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola's intimate knowledge of the Catalan side will not benefit him when he returns to the Nou Camp with Bayern Munich for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Said Messi yesterday: "He was with us for a long time and we had the luck to win many titles and experience important moments. He is a coach who studies everything.
"It is the same for both sides. Pep knows us very well and we know what he asks of his players.
"It is 50-50, we both know each other very well."
Barca have revenge on their minds, though, after Bayern inflicted their heaviest-ever European defeat in a 7-0 thrashing at the same stage of the competition two years ago.
"We need to prepare for the game, knowing what it means playing in a semi-final of the Champions League and against a great team," said Messi.
"That semi-final hurt us a lot, but a lot of time has passed since. We come into the game differently, as do they, and it will be a different tie to that one."
Guardiola is expected to get a hero's welcome on his first visit to the Nou Camp in the opposition camp after 15 years at the club as a player and coach.
However, Messi is confident sentiment will be left aside once the game starts and a place in the June 6 final in Berlin is at stake.
"It is normal that there is a homage for what he meant as a coach because he won everything here and gave a lot to the club," said Messi.
"Once the game starts, that will be left to one side and the fans will support the team to try and win as normal."
Barca are seven games away from matching the historic treble of La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey that they won for the only time in history in Guardiola's first season in charge.
Messi said it was the pain of a trophyless season last year, not losing out in his personal duel with Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d'Or, that has seen a spike in his performance this season.
"I've always said that the most important thing for me are the collective titles. Last year, we didn't win any and therefore we are desperate to win this year." - AFP.