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Julian Nagelsmann has made a fine start to life at the Allianz Arena, while Barcelona are still getting to grips with the post-Lionel Messi era.
Given the challenging wider circumstances, Barcelona has had a decent start to the season. Lionel Messi’s exit inevitably overshadowed the Catalans’ own summer transfer business, which saw Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero all move to the Camp Nou as free agents. Ronald Koeman, who had his fair share of critics last season, was assumed be one poor run of form away from the sack. Despite getting Messi’s sizable salary (as well as Antoine Griezmann’s not-insignificant earnings) off the books, Barcelona remains in financial crisis with debts totaling around $1.6 billion.
Despite those considerable obstacles, Barcelona has picked up a respectable seven points from a possible nine so far in La Liga. Depay has stepped up to the plate impressively, claiming the mantle of Barcelona’s talisman thanks to his personality and character as much as his quality. The Dutchman is patently not in Messi’s class but he is an excellent forward whose presence has helped Barcelona adapt to a new era. Depay will be an integral figure at Camp Nou this term.
Still, a Champions League challenge will probably be beyond Barcelona. They have fallen short in recent years despite having the best player in the world in their team. They were knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 last time out and were thrashed 8-2 by Bayern in the quarter-finals of 2019/20. The Blaugrana have not reached the final of the competition since 2015, when a frontline of Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez helped Barcelona defeat Juventus.
All three of those players have now moved on, and Barca finds themselves in the unfamiliar position of being only the joint-eighth favorites to win Europe’s foremost competition. A transitional, and potentially trophyless, a season lies in store for the five-time Champions League winners.
Bayern Munich, incidentally, are currently the fourth-favorites to win the competition, behind only Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, and Chelsea. Barcelona have the same manager in the dugout this season as they did last, whereas Julian Nagelsmann replaced Hansi Flick as Bayern’s boss at the end of the last term. Despite that, Barcelona is seen as a team in transition, and Bayern are considered to be a settled side who will go deep in the Champions League.
That is not to say that Nagelsmann aside, there have been no other changes at the Allianz Arena over the summer. The long-serving defensive duo David Alaba and Jerome Boateng are no more, with the former having joined Real Madrid and the latter signing for Lyon. Dayot Upamecano is the new defensive lynchpin, alongside whom Lucas Hernandez and Niklas Sule will play more prominent roles this season.
Nagelsmann deserves credit for the way he has handled his new job to date. It is not just that Bayern have won five of his six games in charge, including a 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Super Cup and Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Nagelsmann has opted for evolution instead of revolution. Rather than ripping up Flick’s blueprint and attempting to put his own ideas in place from day one, the 34-year-old has changed very little.
This is a sensible approach. Bayern won the Champions League in 2020, and while Nagelsmann will no doubt tinker with aspects of the team’s play as the season goes on, he is smart to realize that the underlying principles he inherited are solid. That has enabled Bayern to pick up from where they left off last season.
There is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding Barcelona right now, and although their results up to now have been positive, a match against Bayern represents by far their toughest test so far this term. It would have been interesting to see how Koeman’s side fared against Sevilla at the weekend, but that game was postponed due to the number of players both teams had involved in World Cup qualifiers in South America.
Bayern are a well-oiled machine, and in Robert Lewandowski, they have a prolific striker who is at the top of his game. The Pole found the net against Leipzig at the weekend, which means he has now scored in 14 Bundesliga games on the bounce – an extraordinary record made even better by the fact he has notched 23 goals in that time. With the likes of Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry, and Jamal Musiala in behind, Bayern have an abundance of attacking quality that will cause Barcelona problems.
The home team will look to Depay for inspiration in the final third, but their supporting cast is nothing like that which operates behind Lewandowski. Bayern are a much better-balanced team than Barcelona right now, and you should back them to win Tuesday’s contest at the Camp Nou.
|Barcelona vs Bayern Munich Information|
|Teams||Barcelona vs Bayern Munich|
|Location||Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain|
|Time||Tuesday, 14 September 2021, 15.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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