Newly crowned Bundesliga champions host visitors from the Nou Camp.
Bayern Munich face the litmus test in their bid to become the first German team to win the treble of European, league and cup titles when they host Spanish giants Barcelona in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final, first-leg.
Having swept aside all rivals to win this season’s Bundesliga title, Bayern are bidding to reach their third Champions League final in four years, but Spanish champions-elect Barcelona block their path to Wembley.
Bayern warmed-up for the showdown at Munich’s Allianz Arena with a 6-1 win at Hanover 96 on Saturday, the same scoreline by which they routed Wolfsburg in last Wednesday’s German Cup semi-final.
Coach Jupp Heynckes dropped a hint for Tuesday by incorporating both strikers Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro into a 4-4-2 formation, rather than Bayern’s usual 4-2-3-1 line-up.
With first-choice forward Mario Mandzukic suspended, Gomez has staked a strong case to face Barcelona with a hat-trick in six minutes against Wolfsburg, then two goals in Hanover.
Likewise Pizarro set up both Gomez’s goals at Hanover while scoring two of his own, and with an eye on Barcelona the 34-year-old boldly declared: “We’re better, we have more quality in our squad”.
Arsenal have proved Bayern are far from unbeatable in Munich with a 2-0 win as the Gunners lost the last 16 tie on away goals after the Germans’ 3-1 victory in London, but the hosts have belief in abundance.
“We are confident and we are assuming we will go through,” said Bayern’s director of sport Matthias Sammer, as the Bavarians claimed three more Bundesliga records at Hanover.
But Barcelona will be a significant step up from what Bayern have faced recently in the German league and they warmed up with Cesc Fabregas sealing a 1-0 win against Levante on Saturday to keep them 13 points clear at the top of the Spanish league.
Star midfielder Lionel Messi has not played since coming of the bench in the second-leg of Barca’s quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain on April 10, but is expected to start against Bayern.
Barcelona travel to Munich in the unusual position of not being overwhelming favourites and midfielder Xavi said he expects a battle royal in Bavaria.
“Tuesday will be brutal,” said the 33-year-old Spain star.
“Munich is a city which lives for football.
“It’s true FC Bayern are presently in stratospheric form, but Champions League games are often decided by nuances.
“We’ll give everything we have to get a good result in Munich.”
Bayern have no excuses for underestimating Barcelona after their 4-0 thumping at the Camp Nou stadium in the 2009 Champions League quarter-final, when Messi netted twice as Barca went on to win the title.
The hosts led 4-0 at half-time to leave Bayern shell-shocked and the defeat signalled the end of ex-Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s pitifully short 10-month tenure as Munich trainer.
But Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes knows his side can ill-afford to focus on Barcelona’s individual players and need a good result in Munich before the return leg in Spain on May 1.
“Barcelona aren’t just about Messi, they have plenty of great players. Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa – the list goes on,” said the Bayern boss.
But Bayern have their own stars and the manner in which they wrapped up the Bundesliga title with a record six games to spare commands respect.
“It will be a big challenge,” admitted Barcelona technical director Andoni Zubizarreta.
“We will focus on what we know and what we can do, and how much we let them play.”
Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez has said he expects superstar Lionel Messi will be fit for Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final, first leg at Bayern Munich, despite the Argentine labouring with a hamstring injury.
The 26-year-old Messi missed Saturday’s win against Levante and has missed the last fortnight for the Spanish league champions-elect since coming on to help inspire his side in their 1-1 quarter-final second-leg draw with Paris Saint-Germain.
Barcelona went through on away goals, after a 2-2 draw in Paris, but looked in real trouble until the former World Player of the Year gave them a lift and now Xavi is confident Messi will start at the Allianz Arena.
“He’s very important for our attack and you could see we missed him in our last few games,” said the 33-year-old Xavi.
“I am sure he will be at his best so we can again see what an awesome player he is.
“It’s important to have him in our ranks and it will have an influence on Bayern Munich if he plays.”
With Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova still recovering from cancer surgery, assistant coach Jordi Roura spoke to the press and said the backroom staff are working hard to get Messi fit.
“He has a good feeling, he’s improving medically,” Roura said.
“Of course, when you have a player like Messi in your team it makes a huge difference, he can dictate the game and lift the side.
“We know he is the sort of player who can get us through a round on his own.
“We have won games without him, but it’s always important to have him on the pitch, there is no denying that.”
Barcelona are competing in a record sixth successive Champions League semi-final and are looking to lift the trophy for the third time in five season after their triumphs in 2009 and 2011.
Bayern won the team’s only previous semi-final meeting, 4-3 on aggregate back in 1998-99, but few Munich fans will need reminding how Barcelona hammered them 4-0 in the 2009 quarter-final, first leg before winning 5-1 on aggregate.
With the return leg to come at the Camp Nou on May 1, Xavi said the visitors will not play for a draw.
“No, we’ll attack, we don’t know how to play any other way and we need away goals, this is a strong opponent, but I think we are coming to Munich at the right time,” said Xavi.
“Ball possession will be crucial, we know we are at our strongest when we keep the ball.
“It’s a 50:50 match, they are German champions, in their cup final and have reached the semi-finals without problems, which couldn’t always be said for us.
“We will try and dominate the game so we can take a lead back to Barcelona.”
Having failed to impress in the quarter-final against PSG, Xavi said the players draw confidence from their last-16 tie against AC Milan, when the Italians enjoyed a 2-0 home win, only to suffer a 4-0 defeat in Barcelona.
“The Milan game was the reference for us, we held the ball very well, moved around and we had a lot of pressure from the back,” he said.
“We were playing completely on attack, the Milan match was the most important for us, more than the PSG game.”
Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm (c), Daniel van Buyten, Dante, David Alaba; Thomas Mueller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Franck Ribery; Mario Gomez, Claudio Pizarro
Victor Valdes; Jordi Alba, Marc Bartra, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez (c); David Villa, Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodríguez.