Alba, Alaba, Lahm, Pique and the Barcelona & Bayern stars on a suspension tightrope

Three players from each side are just one booking away from a suspension which would see them miss the second leg next week, with card happy Viktor Kassai in charge

By Ben Hayward

Six players go into Tuesday night’s Champions League semi-final first leg between Bayern Munich and Barcelona knowing that a yellow card will leave them suspended for next week’s return match at Camp Nou.

The two teams each have three men on a suspension tightrope ahead of the game at the Allianz Arena: Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Alex Song are all one booking away from a ban for Barca; Dante, Philipp Lahm and Luiz Gustavo find themselves in an equally precarious position for Bayern. Curiously, a central defender, a full-back and a defensive midfielder from each side.

Suspensions for the semi-final second leg or for the final could cost either side dearly and Bayern will have bad memories of Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai, who will officiate Tuesday’s match. The 37-year-old took charge of last season’s semi-final second leg versus Real Madrid (as Bayern lost 2-1 but later triumphed on penalties) and left the Germans’ defence depleted ahead of the showpiece against Chelsea by booking David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Luiz Gustavo.

Alaba’s card came as he was alleged to have handled in the area, when in fact the ball was blasted directly at his arm from close range and he was desperately unlucky to concede a penalty. And Kassai appeared to level things out by awarding a similarly contentious spot kick to Bayern for a supposed Pepe foul on Mario Gomez at the other end.

The Hungarian, a travel agent by day, definitely likes a booking. He handed out 152 cards in just 30 games last season and his cautions in the semi-final second leg seriously disrupted Jupp Heynckes’ defensive plans ahead of the final against Chelsea, which the Bavarians ended up losing on their home ground. Dante and Lahm in particular would be huge losses for a tough trip to Camp Nou next week and the Bavarians will therefore hope to avoid a repeat this time around.

Barcelona will recall Kassai with more fondness, as the Hungarian officiated their 2011 final win over Manchester United at Wembley, yet the Catalans can ill afford to lose defensive personnel for the semi-final second leg either.

Tito Vilanova’s team will welcome back the suspended Adriano for the second match, while Carles Puyol could be available again after injury and Eric Abidal is back in contention following his remarkable recovery from a liver transplant. But Pique and Alba are key for the Catalans and Barca will need to be at their very best at the back in both games to edge out Bayern. Pique, in particular, would represent a huge loss for the second match.

So with Kassai in charge, both Bayern and Barca will need to be on their best behaviour this Tuesday.

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The Dossier: Robben & Ribery waiting in the wings to punish Barcelona

Jordi Alba and Dani Alves will leave space which the widemen must exploit when Bayern Munich face the Blaugrana at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday

TACTICAL ANALYSIS
By Fabio Porta

Bayern Munich’s moment is on Tuesday. After near misses in two of the last three seasons in the Champions League, it is imperative that the Bavarians assert themselves as Europe’s best club – and there will be no better way to do so than against the team who hold the crown they hope to usurp – Barcelona.

While the match-up of two teams running away with their respective domestic leagues will throw up many key battles across the field, the place where they could have the most joy is down either wing.

An injury to Toni Kroos in the first leg against Juventus saw the old axis of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben – or Robbery– reunited down both flanks for the Bavarians and, tactically speaking, the young playmaker’s hamstring problem could not have been more timely for his side.

Simply speaking, Barcelona have been vulnerable in the wing-back positions since the solidity provided by Eric Abidal was curtailed by the Frenchman’s battle with cancer. Now Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are to be found on either side of the Blaugrana back line, and while both are accomplished players, both are more likely to be in the opposition half than defending.

The Brazilian’s value to the Barca team is indisputable. His forays into the final third add a degree of unpredictability to the attack, while his presence also provides the outlet for the midfield as they look to hit their opponents down the lines.

However, with Abidal taking up his place in the defence, Barca were able to switch to a three-man back line with relative ease and help stave off any threat of a counterattack. Alba, who joined in the summer from Valencia, offers no such protection.

The result is obvious. The Catalans look susceptible on the break frequently and it is not surprising since both defenders position themselves far too far forward.

Bayern’s quality on the wings gives them the opportunity to hit Barca where it hurts. Gaps will open up that Robben and Ribery will most certainly be able to exploit. And while two attack-minded wingers may leave them short-handed out wide, Philipp Lahm’s 65 per cent ratio of tackle completion dwarves that of Alves and Alba, who average at around 50% each.

And, in truth, Bayern’s best chance of success relies on a wide game. While Alba and Alves are happy to push forward on the wings, Barca’s play is centred through the middle and, with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi in the Catalans’ ranks, they have the quality to win any game there.

The understated member of Tito Vilanova’s midfield three is, of course, Sergio Busquets, and his role will be more vital than ever for his side. With Bayern boasting four in-form attackers, with the wingers joined by Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez, the Spain midfielder’s calming presence will most certainly be needed.

If Barca play a counterattacking game, Ribery and Robben’s direct running will be complemented by the pace and delivery that both Lahm and David Alaba possess, which will come to the fore thanks to Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez’s willingness to drop back and cover them.

Wingmen | Bayern’s wide players must exploit any opportunity that comes their way

Opportunities will arrive for the Bavarians, and Jordi Roura’s admission that his side might give Eric Abidal his second start since a liver transplant last year at the Allianz Arena was a telling one – they want a secure foundation from which to attack.

Of course, much depends on how the match itself pans out. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery will only receive service if the side can manipulate possession, and though Alaba and Lahm have enjoyed great seasons, the likes of Iniesta, David Villa and Pedro certainly have enough ability to disturb them.

Bayern face a tough task in halting the Blaugrana attack, but they have a genuine opportunity to exploit Barcelona’s weaknesses on the flanks. Even if the visitors dominate possession, opportunities will come down the wings which they must exploit or face another season of unfulfillment.

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Pep factor: What can Guardiola possibly add to Bayern if Heynckes wins the Champions League?

The 67-year-old could exit the Allianz Arena with a treble of major honours and leave his successor to take the reins under a very different set of circumstances than first thought

COMMENT
By Jonathan Wilson

There is a theory, rooted in Sir Alex Ferguson’s announcement in 2001 that he would retire the following summer, that if players know a coach is leaving, their levels of discipline and focus wane. Certainly that seemed to happen at Manchester United in that 2001-02 season. It may even hold true in the majority of cases.
 
And yet there are counter-examples: England’s two best performances in major tournaments since 1966 – in 1990 and 1996 – both came when the players knew their coach was going straight afterwards. Chelsea have twice reached Champions League finals, winning one, with a caretaker boss. Jose Mourinho has lifted the Champions League on two occasions with teams he was fairly evidently about to depart (and could do so again this season). Yet the example of Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich this season remains extraordinary.
 
Bayern Munich have already won the Bundesliga in record-breaking fashion. They are 20 points clear of Borussia Dortmund and average almost three goals a game. They will face Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal final. And they have reached the semi-final of the Champions League, playing thrilling football and administering lessons to Arsenal (in the first leg) and Juventus (in both legs) along the way. And yet Heynckes will not be at the club next season, ruthlessly removed for the supposed greater potential of Pep Guardiola.

“If Bayern win the treble then it’s hard see what Guardiola can add

 
If Bayern were to win the Champions League in May, Heynckes would become only the fourth man to lift the tournament with two different clubs. The first time, when in 1998 he ended Real Madrid’s 32-year wait for a seventh European title, he lasted four more days before being removed because of poor domestic performances. That seemed a preposterously harsh decision but at least there was a rationale. This time, it is hard to imagine what he could possibly have done better. His greatest fault, it seems, is being 67 in an era in which Guardiola was without a club.
 
That perhaps is not entirely fair on the Bavarians, who acted swiftly and decisively when it became apparent that Guardiola was available and interested. What he achieved at Barcelona was remarkable. In lifting 14 titles in four years, he implemented a style of football that even Arrigo Sacchi was forced to acknowledge was so tactically innovative, it marked the first new phase in the game’s development since his AC Milan won a second successive European Cup in 1990.

Heynckes’ contract was due to run out in the summer and last season was marked by narrow failure – runners-up in the league, runners-up in the cup and runners-up in the Champions League. Any club would have wondered whether their coach was lacking the steel to drive his side over the line.
 
There was no reason to believe that Bayern would be able to use those disappointments as motivation this season, something for which Heynckes must take credit even if he is not solely responsible. But what has been notable about this campaign, more than anything, has been the relentless perfectionism.

When they beat Hamburg 9-2, their director of football Matthias Sammer complained that they had let in two goals from corners. No weakness has been allowed to pass uncorrected. The signings – Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Javi Martinez – have strengthened the squad in key areas, not only relieving the pressure on the core of the squad but giving Heynckes options. That Bayern have been able to step up their pressing game this season is down to two factors. Firstly the squad size enables them to rotate more, but also Heynckes can leave out anybody who doesn’t perform their defensive function.

Having grown up as a player at Borussia Monchengladbach, one of the bastions of the German school of ‘total football’ in the seventies, Heynckes has proved the ideal choice to develop the style left by Louis van Gaal, even if the version he played never pressed with anything like the ferocity of the Dutch model.

                    Swept aside | Heynckes’ Bayern taught Juventus a footballing lesson
 
Perhaps FCB hoped he would drift gently into retirement, but he has made it clear that he intends on prolonging his career further – and that makes Guardiola’s position extremely awkward.

If Bayern win the treble, it is hard to see what he can add. It will be the second time he has replaced somebody who succeeded Van Gaal, a coach who he says did more to influence his approach than anybody else he played for. But when he took over the reins from Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona (via Radomir Antic’s caretaker stint) he was taking on a side in decline and his first task was to clear out a handful of egos he felt were holding the club back.
 
Bayern, though, are demonstrably on the up. Having faced accusations all through his time at Camp Nou that anybody could manage players that good within the Barcelona system, Guardiola faces being dogged by allegations that he is simply shepherding Heynckes’ team.

That may be unfair, but sustaining somebody else’s side at the top is a different challenge to the one Guardiola must have thought he was signing up for, restoring a giant to former glories.
 
Heynckes, meanwhile, must wonder just what he has to do to keep a job.

Mario Gomez can make or break his Bayern career against Barcelona

The striker faces the most important 90 minutes of his career with the Bavarians, knowing Tuesday’s clash with Barcelona is key to his future

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes

In 2011-12, Mario Gomez was on fire. Seemingly unable to stop scoring goals, the Bayern Munich striker was up there alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as a virtual guarantee on the scoresheet each week. He regularly found the net at key times, managed the rare feat of four goals in a single Champions League knockout game and ended the season with 40 strikes in 50 matches at club level.

But 2012-13 has been a very different story for the Germany international. Having missed the start of the campaign through injury, Gomez only made his season debut in late-November and now finds himself on the outside looking in as Bayern continue to get the job done in his absence.

However, Tuesday night brings a tipping point for Gomez at Bayern. Mario Mandzukic’s suspension from the Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona opens a door that has been all but locked until now for the former Stuttgart man. The Croatian has been a decent replacement for Gomez, but simply hasn’t proven to have the same firepower as the big No.33. Such has been the form of die Roten, though, Mandzukic has become a key part of a side who have steamrolled their way through almost every opponent they’ve faced this season. Jupp Heynckes has continued to pick the former Wolfsburg man and has yet to feel particularly let down by the result.

MARIO GOMEZ AT BAYERN MUNICH

The effect on Gomez has been huge, but in the past 10 days he has shown that he has everything necessary to answer any questions about his ability. Never during his spell coming off the bench has he done anything other than a good job, yet he showed with a six-goal week against Nuremberg, Wolfsburg and Hannover that his appetite to succeed remains strong.

And with a crucial summer ahead, Tuesday’s opportunity to shine with the whole of Europe watching could not be timelier. Pep Guardiola’s arrival marks an important period for almost everyone at Bayern, but Gomez is at the head of the list of players whom the majority of onlookers believe to be ill-fitting for the Spaniard’s preferred model. He is not exactly known for his work-rate and has some deficiencies in terms of build-up play, but he remains Bayern’s best bet in front of goal.

That goal-getting quality has resulted in admiring glances being cast by many top clubs around the globe. Chelsea, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Atletico Madrid have all been credited with a serious interest in the 27-year-old, with the continued preference for Mandzukic and the touted arrival at the Allianz Arena of Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski leaving Gomez at a loose end. The message to Bayern is clear though: If they don’t rate him enough to give him a regular shirt, others will.

Gomez wants to stay at Bayern and fight for his place but is unlikely to stick around for another season warming the bench when he could otherwise be enjoying his peak years as a footballer. The long list of interested parties is likely to come as a boost, but he still has three years to run on his current deal and FCB will hope to sell their €30 million purchase at a premium as a result. Nothing is clear when it comes to Gomez’s future.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MARKSMEN 2012-13
BAYERN MUNICH
BARCELONA
Thomas Muller 5 Lionel Messi 8
Claudio Pizarro 4 Jordi Alba 2
Toni Kroos 3 David Villa 1
Mario Mandzukic 2 Cesc Fabregas 1
Bastian Schweinsteiger 2 Pedro Rodriguez 1
David Alaba 2 Cristian Tello 1
Mario Gomez 1 Xavi 1
Arjen Robben 1 Alexis Sanchez 1
Franck Ribery 1 Andres Iniesta 1
Xherdan Shaqiri
1
Dani Alves
1

“Of course Mario is unhappy,” said Gomez’s agent Uli Ferber recently when asked about the constant under use of his client. “This can’t go on forever. He deserves the coach’s trust in him.”

Ferber went on to send the Bavarians a warning with regard to Gomez’s worth in the eyes of other clubs. “There has always been interest in him,” he stated. “It was like that in Stuttgart, ahead of his Bayern transfer, again before he renewed with Bayern and it is like that now.”

So what is the next step for Gomez? It is hard to tell. When Heynckes passes the baton onto Guardiola, will that also mark the end for the front man? That too is unclear. But one thing is for certain. A classic Mario Gomez performance at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday will give coaches present and future food for thought ahead of a critical period in the career of a striker who still cannot stop scoring.

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Money back on Bayern Munich v Barcelona if there's a red card

BetVictor are not only an industry best price 5/2 on Barcelona, they will also refund selected markets if a red card is shown in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final

It’s not often that punters are presented with the opportunity to back Barcelona to win a match at 5/2 (3.50) before a match has been kicked. That 5/2 (3.50) about the Spanish side claiming a vital victory is also a joint industry best price with BetVictor for those who are looking for some extra value.

However that is the task facing Tito Vilanova’s men as they head to Germany to take on a Bayern Munich side who have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title in record time.

What’s more, Jupp Heynckes’ side haven’t conceded a goal in their last four matches in the knockout stages, keeping clean sheets both home and away against Celtic and Juventus.

Bayern start the match as 6/5 (2.20) favourites to take a first leg advantage to Barcelona next week, with the draw a 5/2 (3.50) shot, while Barcelona start as the 5/2 (3.50) outsiders.

The hosts to win at both half-time and full-time is priced at 13/5 (3.60) with Barcelona available at 5/1 (6.0) to do likewise.

Barcelona have had a tougher time since the group stages compared to Tuesday’s hosts, with the Catalan giants needing to come from behind in both ties against AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. But with a comfortable lead established in La Liga they will be fully focused on this match and that cannot be taken lightly.

His side may not be favourites for the match but Lionel Messi still heads the first goalscorer market priced at 4/1 (5.0) just ahead of Mario Gomez, who is a 6/1 (7.0) shot to break the deadlock.

Mario Mandzukic is suspended for the hosts so the likes of Thomas Muller (9/1), Franck Ribery (10/1) or Arjen Robben (8/1) could also reward their backers in the first goalscorer market.

The last time these two sides met in a competitive tie it ended 1-1 and that is an outcome than can be backed at 7/1 (8.0) with BetVictor.

Whatever you’re backing in this game, don’t forget that if there’s a red card shown in the match you could get your money back thanks to BetVictor’s red card refund.

If a red card is shown at any time during the Bayern Munich v Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid match, BetVictor will refund losing Correct Score, First/Last Goalscorer & Scorecast bets on that particular match up to a maximum of £50 per person/house.

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Jim Knight is Betting Editor at Goal.com and has been tipping football games since he was old enough to place a bet. He is a Leicester City fan, writer and member of the We Are Going Up Podcast

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