Bayern are missing a few first team players, but their strength in depth should allow them to replace quality with quality. Jupp Heynckes is without the injured Toni Kroos, meaning Thomas Muller will continue in the central role and Arjen Robben will play on the right wing, while in attack Mario Gomez will replace the suspended Mario Mandzukic.
Tito Vilanova has more troubling absentees. Injuries to Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano and a suspension for Adriano deprive Barcelona of three senior centre backs, meaning either young Marc Bartra will deputise or Eric Abidal will make only his second start of the season after returning from injury. Meanwhile Lionel Messi is likely to be risked despite not being fully fit.
With Bayern on course for a record points haul in the Bundesliga and a possible treble of German League and Cup to go with the Champions League, Barcelona are aware that they enter a European tie as underdogs for the first time in four years… (Read more)
Tito Vilanova has two major selection concerns ahead of the visit of Paris Saint-Germain. Lionel Messi is recovering from injury and may be replaced in attack by Cesc Fabregas, who scored a hat-trick at the weekend against Mallorca. In defence Javier Mascherano’s suspension, coupled with Carlos Puyol’s injury, means Vilanova will choose between Adriano, Sergio Busquets and Marc Bartra to partner Gerard Pique.
For Carlo Ancelotti, Blaise Matuidi’s suspension means that David Beckham is likely to continue alongside Marco Verratti, with the semi-fit Thiago Motta offering reinforcements from the bench. In attack Ezequiel should continue in his support role behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, occupying Busquets before moving forward in attack. Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore will offer invention in the channels.
Barcelona’s injury problems surely give PSG hope, and Ancelotti will believe that the system that stifled the Catalans for much of the first leg and posed an aerial threat throughout can have more success against a side missing their star player and liable to field a makeshift centre back… (Read more)
Real Madrid and Barcelona have played each other so often in recent years that attempting to offer a new insight into the tactical battle is all but impossible. The match will be the usual contest between Madrid’s physicality and Barcelona’s technical quality, quick counter attacks versus patient possession football. No ‘Clasico’ is ever played without purpose but with Barcelona having all but secured the league title and important Champions League fixtures coming up for both teams, this game certainly lacks the fixture’s usual edge.
Therefore rather than previewing the game I have decided to consider a tactical ‘Plan B’ for either team, or how the inclusion of specific players could add extra dimensions to their approach. Should Jose Mourinho wish to add extra depth to his midfield he could select Luka Modric in the advanced midfield position who would offer more tactical flexibility than Mesut Ozil. Modric was signed in the summer to supposedly offer such an option, but as yet he has struggled to hold down a first team spot, yet against Barcelona his ability to play in deeper areas would surely be an asset. For Barcelona Tito Vilanova, or in his absence Jordi Roura, can look to add more verticality by selecting Alexis Sanchez or David Villa on the left wing to mirror the direct running of Pedro on the right. As the 2-0 defeat to AC Milan demonstrated, at times the Catalan’s can lack penetration when they pack their midfield and forward line with playmakers.
Neither of these options are radical nor are they even untried by either manager, but they are a divergence from both Mourinho and Vilanova’s first choice XIs… (Read more)
AC Milan have been a team searching for an identity this season, with key players leaving in the summer, but Massimiliano Allegri has done remarkably well to keep the club competitive. Milan’s most regular system is a 4-3-3 variation, with a designated holding midfielder and a narrow front three. Mario Balotelli has recently starred as the central forward but will be cup-tied, so either Stephan El Shaarawy or Giampaolo Pazzini will play in his place. Kevin-Prince Boateng is likely to start on the left in place of the injured Robinho to offer defensive solidity, while Allegri can choose between Riccardo Montilivo, Sulley Muntari, Antonio Nocerino and Mathieu Flamini for midfield positions. With Nigel De Jong injured, Massimo Ambrosini will probably play in the holding role.
Milan face Barcelona, the team that have defined the 4-3-3 shape more than any other in recent years. With manager Tito Vilanova recovering from cancer treatment in New York, assistant Jordi Roura will continue to take charge of the team but has no major injury concerns… (Read more)
Valencia have been one of Barcelona’s trickier domestic opponents in recent years, although given that Barcelona beat them 5-1 only last season there is still a sizable gap between the two sides. Previous manager Unai Emery was keen to press Barcelona high up the pitch but the huge reserves of energy required to maintain this for 90 minutes, allied to the quality of Barcelona’s players, have generally made this strategy unsustainable. Barcelona’s gameplan will be their usual – Tito Vilanova has returned formational stability to a side that began to experiment tactical under Pep Guardiola – but Valencia’s recent turnover of managers makes their approach less certain… (Read more)