September 14, (THEWILL) – In one of the crucial UEFA Champions League opening matches of the 2021/2022 campaign, La Liga side Barcelona will play hosts to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, a fixture viewed with cautious optimism by new Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann.
In charge of the Bavarian heavyweights for first time in the European elite football competition, Nagelsmann admitted the fact that though Ronald Koeman’s side will be without their talismanic Lionel Messi and will miss the Argentine’s “extravagance”, it will be a mistake to think they are suddenly beatable.
The manager conceded that in Messi’s absence, the team still boasts of players that show that Barcelona are not much weaker without him even after the 34-year-old joined Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain over the summer transfer period over financial burdens that prevented Barca from re-signing him.
Without their iconic forward calling the shots, the Catalans have started the post-Messi era strongly to prove Nagelsmann right. They have seven points from three games in La Liga so far and will carry that momentum into their opening night of the UCL against Nagelsmann’s Bayern at the Camp Nou.
The Bayern coach took cognisance of this at the pre-match news conference when he said: “Barcelona definitely don’t have the extravagance of a Messi any more. But they also have other players who can play a very important role if you take Frenkie de Jong and Pedri for example.
“We are ready for anything. I don’t believe they are much weaker. The future will show if they are any better. But we definitely want to take three points.”
The hosts will want the same three points even though they have the challenge of injuries impinging on their squad selection for the Group E fixture. Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite and Sergio Aguero are all not available to feature for Koeman.
Nagelsmann has an injury bother of his own to be concerned about as there are questions about the availability of Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski and a few others, which have yet to be answered.
Gnabry was substituted in Saturday’s 4-1 Bundesliga win over RB Leipzig due to a back problem he was experiencing. Also, Bayern’s record-breaking goal machine Robert Lewandowski was substituted for “precautionary” reasons with a groin complaint.
Responding to the availability of these players, Nagelsmann was coy, not wanting to reveal much: “We’ll have to make a late decision on that one,” Nagelsmann said about Gnabry. Gnabry will travel. [Corentin] Tolisso will not. [Kingsley] Coman is in the squad but not an option to start. It’s looking good for Lewandowski again though.”
THEWILL recalls that Bayern thrashed Barcelona 8-2 in the 2020 Champions League quarter-final played as a one-off in Lisbon, adding further spice to their opening Group E fixture and marking them as the clear favourites.
But the Bayern coach did not want to get over his head. He said “Being the favourites or not the favourites is always more of a subject for the media. Two world-class clubs face each other.”