Barcelona threat to Bayern Munich's Europe dreams
German champions have high ambitions of becoming the first Bundesliga side to win the treble of Europe, national league and cup titles
Agence France-Presse in Munich
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 tonight in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Having swept aside all rivals to win the 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 score by which they routed Wolfsburg in last Wednesday's German Cup semi-final.
Coach Jupp Heynckes dropped a hint for today 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 claim to face Barcelona with a hat-trick in six minutes against Wolfsburg, then two goals in Hanover.
Likewise Pizarro, 34, set up both Gomez's goals at Hanover, while scoring two of his own, and with an eye on Barcelona he 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 expected a real battle in Bavaria.
"It will be brutal," the Spain star said. "Munich is a city, which lives for football. It's true Bayern are presently in stratospheric form, but Champions League games are often decided by nuances. We'll give everything to get a result."
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 short 10-month tenure as Munich coach.
But Heynckes knows his side can ill-afford to focus on Barcelona's individuals 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," Heynckes said.
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.