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Sports

Emotions high as Barca battle Bayern

media Pep Guardiola will lead his Bayern Munich team against his former club Barcelona Reuters/Lukas Barth

Barcelona host Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Uefa Champions League semi-final. It will be an emotional moment at the Camp Nou for the Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola. Born and bred in Catalonia, Guardiola graced Barcelona's midfield in the 1990s as they collected domestic and European crowns. When he became the coach, Barcelona redefined the spheres and angles of a football field claiming 14 tophies in four years.

On 24 April in the Swiss city of Nyon, four teams were in the draw for the semi-final of the Uefa Champions League.

The Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid were there, so too Bayern Munich and Juventus.

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The question was, would we be given the fire and brimstone of another Classico between Barca and Real or would there be the emotion of the Bayern boss Pep Guardiola returning to Barca?

The second scenario emerged. And the German champions go to Spain for the first leg of their semi-final, slightly downbeat and not the triumphant force of yore.

Bayern won their third consecutive Bundesliga crown on 27 April. It was Guardiola's second championship since taking over at the Allianz Arena from Jupp Heynckes in June 2013.

The Spaniard has also harvested the German Cup of 2014 as well as the European Super Cup in 2013 and the Club World Cup in 2013.

Five titles in two seasons in Germany suggests he is on track to emulate his 14 trophies in four years at the helm of Barcelona.

However Guardiola's attempt to win two consecutive domestic doubles was thwarted just over a week ago when Borussia Dortmund beat Bayern in the semi-final of the German Cup.

The victory for Jurgen Klopp's men means they will contest the final against Wolfsburg on 30 May at the Olympia Stadion in Berlin.

"It's impressive that Guardiola has led Bayern to successive Bundesliga titles," Jurgen Koers, a sports writer at the Ruhr

"But the Bundesliga is expected of a manager at Bayern," Nachrichten told RFI. "Guardiola himself said that what counts is the triple of Bundesliga, German Cup and the Uefa Champions League."

That treble would at least end the comparisons with Heynckes. The German headed off into the sunset after sweeping up those three titles during a very merry month of May in 2013.

Guardiola is working within that legacy and with the big dream over for this year, Bayern may have to be content then with just the Bundesliga and Uefa Champions League. Poor dears!

"At Bayern Munich it's not enough to win one title a year, you have to have more and more silverware every season," added Koers. "They have the German championship. They can't get the German Cup any more so they will do everything they can to win the Champions League."

That quest has been made more diffcult with the loss of the Netherlands international Arjen Robben. He hobbled off with a leg injury during that German Cup semi-final defeat to Dortmund. The French winger Franck Ribéry is also out.

By contrast Barcelona's treble is very much on. Though they haven't secured the La Liga crown, they're two points ahead of Real Madrid with three games to play.

Barca are also into the final of the Copa del Rey and their troika of attackers Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are on form.

They were responsible for six of the goals during last weekend's 8-0 annihilation of Cordoba in La Liga. The three have scored 108 goals between them in all competitions.

Guardiola was the man who unleashed the genius of Lionel Messi. And as he prepared to face his star pupil, Guardiola conceded he did not know how to contain him. Obvious really, since it wasn't his problem before.

"There is no defence that can stop Messi," Guardiola admitted. "It is impossible. How he is playing at the moment, you cannot stop him.

"You can't always be at your best physically during your career, there are ups and downs, but the way he has played over the last four or five months there is no way to stop him. He is too good.

"Obviously you have to get close and try to ensure he receives the ball less, but there is not a system or coach to stop talent of his magnitude."

On the eve of the game, the 27-year-old Argentine reciprocated the love. He said Guardiola would rightly receive a hero's welcome for the 20 years of service he gave to the club, firstly as a player and then as a coach.

"It is great to be in Barcelona," said Guardiola. "There are so many memories and it is a big moment for me. When you coach big teams like Bayern Munich, sooner or later a return like this is going to happen. For me it is the first time but I am not here for a homage, I am here to do my job and get Bayern Munich to the final."

That task has been made more difficult. Bayern are also without defenders David Alaba and Holger Badstuber.

Poland international Robert Lewandowski will be asked before kick-off if he can play with a protective face mask after the striker broke his nose and cheekbone in the defeat against Dortmund.

"All coaches want to go into the games in the best condition possible, added Guardiola. "But during the season things happen. We will prepare for the game with the players that we have as we have no other option.

"Never in my time as Bayern coach will you hear me say that we didn't win because of the players that weren't there."

Fighting talk indeed from the man who was for so long the undisputed king of the Camp Nou.

But his old warriors of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and of course Messi may unite to make it a night he might want to forget.

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