By Greg Robertson
Hello and welcome to Allianz Arena where we have Germany’s Bayern Munich hosting Spain’s Barcelona in first leg UEFA Champions League 2013 semi-final action. It’s Champs League football, at its finest.
All the chat has been about Lionel Messi and his hamstring. Will he start? Won’t he start? We won’t know that until about an hour out from kick off but either way, this one is set to be a firecracker.
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LIVE COMMENTARY... Bayern 4 – 0 Barcelona
FULLTIME 4-0 to Bayern Munich. It's a demolition job. ALL VIDEO IS UP.
90+2 MINS: This may be a new experience for some of these Barcelona players.
89 MINS: Robben gets a ball in the face from Alba and Alba gets the yellow. Frustration, that. THREE MINUTES ADDED.
87 MINS: Can you believe this? This is one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen.
83 MINS: Muller makes it 4-0! Great ball in and he slides to finish. That was Alaba putting it on a platter with the ball in. The rout is complete. VIDEO
79 MINS: Carnage on the Barca goal. Muller, Schweinsteiger all shooting and Valdes having to make two saves in a row, one from close range and the next from distance.
77 MINS: Bartra BLOWS IT! A free kick find him free in behind the defence with time, he turns and blasts it high, wide and handsome miles over with just Neuer to beat. Barca desperate for an away goal.
75 MINS: A Barcelona cross has Neuer at full stretch to deal with it and does as Bayern breaks GOAL ROBBEN! Robben goes behind Alba and Alba in defence is checked by Muller, the Barcelona defence stops to wait for the foul on Alba with Muller stopping him in his tracks but no whistle comes and Robben picks his spot into the far corner of the net. WOW. Is that Barca gone? VIDEO
71 MINS: Gustavo comes on for Gomez... a solidifying move as they prepare the defend the lead.
69 MINS: First run from Messi! He dribbles into the area but Dante is there to block the shot out for a corner. Fell to Bartra and he stabbed one straight at Neuer who takes it comfortable.
65 MINS: A goal over the next 25 minutes will certainly change the dynamics at the Nou Camp next week. That, though, would have to come from absolutely no where.
62 MINS: Unbelievable statistics as Barca have had more ball but it definitely doesn't feel that way. Barcelona with a couple of ventures forward but lack the finishing ball. But is that a hint - just a hint - of things to come? Are we about to see a great comeback? Don;t bet the farm on it, this is one tough Bayern side.
57 MINS: Free kick and Schweinsteiger delivers a lovely ball, Ribery up and a glancing header wide. Did I mention one-way traffic? VIDEO
54 MINS: ONE-WAY TRAFFIC! Ribery pulls a shot across the face from a very acute angle. He should have crossed or squared as there were players inside. Bayern are now creating plenty of chances. Barcelona are being suffocated with no time to dwell on the ball.
52 MINS: Muller dribbles square across the box then shoots against the grain and it's wide. VIDEO
49 MINS: Martinez bulldozes his way towards goal and the danger is in Barcelona's face as all mannager of players come to clear. Corner to Bayern. GOAL! GOMEZ SCORES IT'S 2-0!. Valdes caught in no man's land and again they couldn't cope with the corner. Muller turns provider and Gomez has the easiest of finishes. VIDEO
47 MINS: Iniesta breaking through but the flags up - Neuer got their first anyway.
46 MINS: Is Messi 100% or has Bayern just done a better tactical job on the great one. An early booking in the second half for a challenge by Martinez on Iniesta. Simply put, that's a soft yellow.
Halftime... Bayern leads 1-0 through Muller's header and it's a deserved lead with Barcelona yet to find their rhythm. See you after the break.
45 MINS: Here we go... a Barca corner. Final minute of the first half and a chance to ask a question or two of the Bayern dfefence.... cleared to Iniesta but off to Alves and his next ball sums up his side's first half - very poor.
44 MINS: Messi tries and angled, curling ball to try and release Alba but it's too strong and into touch. You know, there hasn't been one single Barca highlight so far this half... can't even remember a shot on goal.
42 MINS: Long ball right through the heart of the Bayern defence and it's Ribery who chests it down and then dribbles it 10 yards from his own goal - home side hearts were in mouths - but manages to squeeze out a clearance.
40 MINS: Every time Barcelona gets forward there seems to be about three more red shirts surrounding them. Can they sneak one in the last five minutes of this spell and start the second half on equal terms - they'd probably like to forget the first half, actually. We all know that Barcelona are better than this.
38 MINS: Okay it's Bayern Munich versus some team I don't recognise... a side that is struggling with rhythm... I side that just doesn't look like the Spanish giants. Yellow comes out for Bartra who barrelled right through Muller.
37 MINS: Gomez lumbers back and is clumsy in the challenge on Messi and gets a yellow card.
32 MINS: Barcelona has hardly been in the Bayern Munich's penalty area... and Neuer gets a rare touch as the ball dribbles to him... Schweinsteiger with a strong, clean challenge on Messi... then Pique intervenes at the other end to diffuse yet another fast break from Muller. Corner for Bayern after they work it forward... huge APPEALS FOR ANOTHER HAND BALL. It's definitely hit the arm but it would have been harsh as he was jumping... how many of these can Barca survive though? VIDEO
27 MINS: Pique comes across to extinguish another Bayern break with Robben scooting away to try and cause even more danger.
24 MINS: You'd have to say that Bayern has been the better team so far by quite a distance. Yet another corner for the home side. This time from their left side.... Muller bring it down... GOAL MULLER for Bayern. Not cleared from Muller's first go, Robben crosses, it's headed back across by Dante and Muller heads it home far post. VIDEO
22 MINS: Iniesta glides down the laft with the pill at his feet... Messi has to turn two phases later as Bayern breaks and he gives up the chase. Result is a Bayern corner. Well, well.... Messi totally gave that away. Corner this time is swing in toward Valdes and he punches with two fists but receives the free kick as three Bayern players pressure him.
20 MINS: Pass, pass, pass... who is it? No, it's Bayern Munich saying, "Anything you can do..."
18 MINS: Lahm brilliant and nearly engineers a chance but wins a corner. Short again and nothing comes of it.
17 MINS: Opens up for Lahm and thunders a right boot into the back of Pique and calls for a penalty go up... no way. Robben takes the corner and plays it back... strange that would have liked to seen a delivery into the box to pose some questions. WOW Replays show that hit Pique square in the arm and with his arm away from his body. SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BAYERN PENALTY. Barcelona gets away with one there. VIDEO
14 MINS: Just the one chance so far and that to the home side. Back to Barca playing football by themselves. Messi looks to turn on the gas with the ball but checks the run... and it's pass, pas, pass again. They work it forward like a game of chess, then back again... then forward again, first down the right then a probe down the left... Alves almost around the back of the Bayern defence but his touch lets him down.
12 MINS: Messi dribbles into touch and he looks a bit peeved... he's having to drop off a bit to get hold of the ball.
11 MINS: Neuer is forced to kick clear and react quicker than he would have liked... Martinez spreads it wide to Alaba who is galloping into space but he's closed down. This counter attack is lightning quick.
8 MINS: A reminder that Barcelona has never won in Munich... as they try and get hold of the ball and dictate the pace and the play... but every time they lose possession it's Bayern who charge at them in numbers. Messi with his first touch of the ball... Pedro in the box and Alaba concedes the corner. Xavi takes it and Pique gets something on it but not enough.
5 MINS: Alaba now makes a sojourn down the left. This is a potency and power that Barca may have not encountered so far this season... and that's including Real Madrid. Alexis Sanchez with a slight nudge in the back of Martinez and he crumbles in the penalty area but it's waved play on and rightly so.
2 MINS: Barcelona start in beautiful fashion as they strong pass after pass togethers and the first minute ticks by without Bayern touching the ball.Suddenly it's Robben who threatens down the right as Barca lose the ball... cross is poor... then it breaks again and Robben is released with his right foot and Valdes down to save. BAYERN SHOULD HAVE SCORED. VIDEO
Here we go... we're off... Barcelona with the roll off.
Shaking hands... and the height difference is very evident as Bayern dwarf Barca man-on-man.
Teams out on the pitch and listening to the Champions League anthem which is always stirring stuff.
Both teams out warming up... is this the finest Bayern side we've ever seen? Quite possibly. The countdown continues...
A little over half an hour until kick off... Alliannz is jammed packed. Isn't that a surprise? What football feast are we about to dine out on? And although Messi is starting, Bayern won't mind that... they've planned for it for sure and if they beat Barcelona they will want to beat a Barcelona that incluseds the world's greatest player.
THE BIG NEWS MESSI IS STARTING!
Here are your line ups...
Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Martínez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Müller, Ribéry; Gomez.
Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Bartra, Pique, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
Kick off is not far away so in the meantime watch highlights and the power that Barcelona faces as Bayern accounts for Wolfsburg 6-1.
Bayern Munich: Neuer; Alba, Dante, van Buyten, Lam, Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Riberg, Muller, Robben, Pizarro/Gomez.
Barcelona: Valdes, Alba, Abidal, Pique, Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Sanchez.
Something tells me unpaid taxes are of absolutely zero concern to a squad of Bayern Munich players building for their biggest game of the year so far.
While German papers froth the Uli Hoeness tax evasion saga, Bayern players will be 100% focussed on a football, a pitch and 11 Catalan lads – whether that number includes the likes of Lionel Messi or not.
And right up to the eve of the match it was still unsure if Messi would take the field or not.
Assistant coach Jordi Toura was circumspect about Messi’s chances while teammate Xavi Hernandez was confident.
Messi’s right hamstring had made good progress according to Roura but team doctors were waiting until the final practice session to give him the nod that will elate Barcelona football fans all around the planet, or the shake of the head that would deflate.
But both Hernandez and his stand-in coach were 100% on one thing – having Messi in the team would make one massive difference,
"Messi is the best player in the world. He is very important for us, he can make the difference," Xavi says. "We'll see the best Messi from the start. He guarantees the stability of the team."
Roura would not go that far.
"I don't want to lean too much out of the window," the assistant coach said. "We have a good feeling but we have to wait for the final word from the doctors. There is no doubt our game thrives when he is on the field. He is the one who can decide.
"We have managed to win without him, but there is no doubt that it's crucial for him to be on the field."
Since injuring his hamstring in early April he has since missed three Spanish league games, but he went on as a substitute to help Barcelona come from behind and advance from the quarterfinals at Paris Saint-Germain's expense two weeks ago.
The four-time FIFA player of the year changed the momentum of that game, demonstrating once again how much Messi matters to Barcelona.
"We have a deep squad and we have good players. But I can only repeat that it would be important to have Leo on the pitch," Roura said.
Xavi and Roura are expecting there to be little between Barcelona and Bayern across the two legs.
"I don't think things will be clear after tomorrow," Roura says.
Barcelona not only laboured against Paris Saint-Germain. The team also trailed 2-0 after the first leg of the quarterfinals against Milan before storming back to win 4-0 at home. Xavi said that is the quality of play needed to beat Bayern.
"We have to dominate the game, to show our personality," Xavi says. "But they'll also want possession and to take the ball away from us.
"The two teams have similar philosophies, similar style. It would be bad to lose a lot of g to be difficult," Roura said. "We knew after the draw it would be tough, it's no surprise. Bayern have marched through the Champions League, they have dominated at home."
And on the flip side, for Bayern Munich, they’ve also been hopeful of a player’s return.
Mario Gomez has been waiting patiently for his opportunity and it may come in one of the biggest games of the season.
Gomez is expected to return to Bayern Munich's starting lineup against Barcelona after spending most of the season playing as back-up to Mario Mandzukic.
Mandzukic is suspended for the game and Gomez is the logical choice to step in.
Gomez was injured at the start of the season, and newcomer Mandzukic used his chance to establish himself in the starting 11 and relegate Germany's top striker to the bench.
Gomez took his fate stoically, refraining from his usual grumbling despite being Bayern's highest scoring striker during the previous two Bundesliga seasons with 54 goals in total.
Mandzukic was brought to the club after Bayern lost the Champions League final to Chelsea at home and club Hoeness suggested Gomez might just not be good enough. While the player scored a lot of goals, Bayern failed to win a single title in two seasons.
Gomez scored 12 goals last season in the Champions League, two fewer than Messi, and was instrumental in getting Bayern to the final.
"Mario Gomez has a scoring rate like perhaps Gerd Mueller," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes says.
Heynckes says he is pleased to have "two top strikers" for the match, referring also to Peru veteran Claudio Pizarro who is expected to start on the bench.
In the build-up to the match, Heynckes has given Gomez more playing time
and he scored six goals in the past three games, including a hat trick in a six-minute span after coming on as a late substitute.
Gomez is eager to get as much playing time as possible ahead of the World Cup next year in Brazil. Germany coach Joachim Loew already has experimented with a "false No. 9" system, a formation that doesn't include a true striker.
Gomez might also need to make a case for himself at Bayern, which reportedly is interested in signing Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski.
As a boy, Gomez had posters of Barcelona on his bedroom walls. The son of a Spanish father and German mother, Gomez was a fan. Now, he could help end their hopes of reaching the final.
The New German champions trained yesterday ahead of hosting Barcelona on in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
The Bavarian club are on the brink of making it to their third final in four years in arguably one of the greatest periods in the club's history.
Having sealed the Bundesliga title sooner than any other club they have skittled numerous domestic records, while the manner of their 6-1 victory at Hannover shows they are not done yet.
Furthermore, they have reached the final of the DFB-Pokal and are therefore on course for an historic treble.
It could nevertheless turn out to be a disappointing season if Bayern fail to lift Europe's ultimate club trophy, although a repeat of last season's final defeat to Chelsea is no longer in the memory.
"Bayern are currently playing the most modern, contemporary football in the history of this club," says Heynckes, who has yet to confirm whether or not he will be retiring when his contract expires at the end of June.
"We will not be wasting any thoughts on the failure against Chelsea last year.
"We have a plan for the game tomorrow night."
That plan includes how to deal with Messi, who Heynckes fully expects to start for the Barcelona, despite missing out at the weekend.
"I expect he will be able to play and it is not something which is causing me a headache," he added.
"Barca are about more than just Messi."
What is still causing Heynckes a headache is his own team selection with two big doubts, one at the back and one in attack.
Daniel van Buyten and Jerome Boateng are vying for one berth alongside Dante, with the former likely to be preferred given his experience.
Up front, with top-scorer Mandzukic suspended, Gomez or Claudio Pizarro will lead the line.
And with that in mind, Barcelona’s Roura knows the Catalans face the sternest test of their Champions League credentials today.
The Spaniards, who have won the trophy twice in the past five years and are into their sixth straight semi-final, arrived in Munich needing only to glance at the Bundesliga table to realise what they are up against.
With 81 points, 20 more than their nearest rivals and fellow Champions League semi-finalists Borussia Dortmund, just one defeat in 30 matches and 89 goals scored compared to just 14 conceded, Bayern's domestic record is frightening.
Add to that a 6-1 humbling of Wolfsburg, and the same scoreline to sweep Hannover aside in the Bundesliga, then it is clear to see why Barca have arrived in Bavaria with plenty of respect for their hosts.
"It is going to be a very tight tie," assistant coach Roura told reporters as he stood in for Tito Vilanova at the pre-match press conference.
"It will probably come down to nuances. The side who manages to impose themselves the most on the game will have the best chance.
"We know how good Bayern are, and we know it's going to be hard not only tomorrow, but in the tie overall."
The Allianz Arena will be packed with 65,000 fans also looking forward to the game with many among the home faithful also eager to catch a glimpse of three-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi.
They will have to wait until an hour before kick-off to find out if the Argentinian will start, however, with Roura not wanting to reveal too much.
Messi has scored eight goals in the competition so far this season, three more than Bayern's top scorer Thomas Muller.
"He's been feeling good over the past few days, but I don't know how he will feel tomorrow," Roura said.
"He is a special player and whether he plays or not will make a difference."
But there’s more to Barca than just Messi – a statement once said leaves a knot in the throat.
"We have reached the semi-finals six times in a row now, which speaks for us. We are still having all aims ahead of us. We can still achieve something in the Champions League and we have a great anticipation for this game on this pitch here in this nice stadium and we are very much looking forward to this semi-final. We are aware that Bayern is currently a very strong team - in strong shape - and that they are having a very complete team with strong individual players who can make the difference anytime. But, we know what is at stake and so we will try to impose our system and our game philosophy. And then we'll see. At first, there is great anticipation, great appetite to play this match,” Roura says.
A special player for what promises to be a special night in Munich when two of Europe's top clubs in terms of tradition and prestige fight it out for a place at the Wembley final next month.