Barca ready for Champions League semis

Madrid, April 22 (IANS) FC Barcelona face perhaps their biggest test of the season Tuesday night when they play the first leg of their Champions League football semifinal away to German powerhouses Bayern Munich.

Bayern have already been crowned as German league champions and are on target for a historic treble to help ease the memories of the Champions League final defeat they suffered at the hands of Chelsea at the Allianz Arena last year, reports Xinhua.

The Allianz Arena will be the scene for Tuesday’s game and there is one big question hanging over the Barca side: will Lionel Messi start in Munich?

The Argentine has been suffering a hamstring problem and has not played since his 30-minute cameo in the quarterfinal at home to Paris Saint Germain. The signs are positive for Barca, given that Messi completed a full training session Sunday.

However, whether or not Barca coach, Tito Vilanova is willing to risk his star player from the start or keep him on the bench as an insurance policy is a major doubt.

With Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets all back in the starting 11 after Busquets and Xavi were rested for Saturday’s 1-0 win at home to Levante, there are also questions to be asked about the Barca defence.

Jordi Alba was also rested at the weekend, will play as a left back, while the untiring Dani Alves will play on the right, all be it with his attacking urges restrained to combat Bayern’s Frank Ribery, and Gerard Pique will also slot straight into the side.

That leaves one place to be decided in the heart of the Barca back four with Marc Bartra and Eric Abidal both in with a chance of playing.

Young defender Bartra was rested at the weekend and that points to him getting the nod, but Abidal played all 90 minutes Saturday in what was his first start since his liver transplant 14 months ago.

Not only did Abidal play, the veteran Frenchman looked comfortable and in control for the entire night and although Levante hardly threatened, his performance and experience will have given Vilanova a lot to think about.

Bayern are without doubt rivals to fear in Europe with attacking power such as Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and a powerful midfield containing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez and they want to put last year’s massive disappointment in the past.

It promises to be a thrilling contest between Bayern’s pace and power and Barca’s passing game.

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