Guardiola returns to rampant Barca with depleted Bayern; Real at Juve




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BERLIN  –   Barcelona appear to be peaking for the return of their former Pep Guardiola with Bayern Munich to the Nou in in an intriguing Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.

The Spanish league leaders have all players on board and are scoring freely with their deadly trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar aiming to up for an aggregate 7-0 loss against Bayern at the same stage two years ago.
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Guardiola was nearing the end of his sabbatical at the , after leaving Barcelona in 2012 with 14 titles including two Champions Leagues during his four-year term.

He has two Bundesliga titles and a German Cup with Bayern, but his bid for Champions League glory is under serious threat owing to a long list.

Bayern went out against eventual champions Real Madrid in the last four in 2014, and Cristiano Ronaldo and company set their sights on becoming the first team to defend the title in the Champions League format.

But in order to reach the June 6 Berlin final, they have to prevail against freshly crowned Italian champions Juventus, with the first leg in Turin on Tuesday.

The four heavyweights share 21 titles between them in the Champions Cup/League with Real leading the way on 10 ahead of Bayern (5), Barca (4) and Juve (2).

Barcelona plan to give Guardiola a warm welcome before putting friendship aside on the pitch. They are coming off an 8-0 win against Cordoba and a 6-0 against Getafe for a league tally of 105 goals.

Barca faced Bayern in 2013 with seven players injured. Present Luis Enrique has been praised for his rotation policy, which has led to the entire squad being fighting fit for the final month.

“The credit for our physical condition must go to Luis Enrique,’’ defender Javier Mascherano said.

“He has received a lot of criticism this for his ‘rotations’, but luck at what condition we are in , for the decisive period.

“We let ourselves down against Bayern two years ago, but part of the problem was our injuries then. Now we are in better physical condition, and I hope that a difference on Wednesday.’’

Guardiola is without the influential Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, with David Alaba and Holger Badstuber also absent.

Striker Robert Lewandowski is highly doubtful with a broken jaw and nose but Javi Martinez has returned from a long lay-off.

Munich went out in the German Cup semis on penalties against Dortmund, and then lost 2-0 in Leverkusen with a makeshift team on Saturday in the league where they had however already clinched another title.

But forward Thomas Mueller rather mentioned the big success against Barca two years ago and noted that Bayern won their last Champions League home 7-0 against Donetsk and 6-1 against Porto.

“It was a terrific experience (in 2013), we were brilliant that night and made the world of football sit up and take notice. I’ll definitely run out with a positive feeling on Wednesday,’’ he told the Bayern website in an interview published on Monday.

“We know all about their strengths. They’re world-class, especially up front … But we’re geared up. The knows this team better than any . He’ll give us a game plan, but the rest is up to us players.’’

Messi aim to add to his 75 goals in the elite event but Ronaldo has the same amount ahead of their trip Italy, and he is coming off a hat-trick in their 3-2 league win at Sevilla.

Luka Modric is injured while Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have recovered fitness.

But Benzema could find it difficult to displace Javier Hernandez who scored the lone goal in the quarters against neighbours Atletico.

“To win the Champions is the dream of every player. We know that Juventus are a good team which never stops fighting, and give us a hard .

“All teams are very motivated against us,’’ said Hernandez, who is on loan from .

Juve cut their Serie A title celebrations short on the weekend to prepare for Real, which defender Giorgio Chiellini named “fundamental’’ while coach Massimiliano Allegri said that Juve had defied the critics in Europe by reaching the last four.

“No was betting on us at the start of the and thought we would go out at the group phase,’’ Allegri said.

“This means that we have come a long way. Now we must our chances as best as we can, having to tackle the European champions who have extraordinary players.’’

Arturo Vidal, who scored the league winning 1-0 goal against Sampdoria, is not afraid of Real who beat Juve in the 1998 final.

“I know Real Madrid are the best team in the world, but we want to be in the final. It would be a dream to win the Champions League. We will have to celebrate at the end of the ,’’ he said. (dpa/NAN)
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