CHELSEA V BAYERN MUNICH
Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich experimented at the back in Friday’s 3-2 win over Paderborn, with one eye on the trip to face Chelsea in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday — but left coach Hansi Flick with more questions than answers.
Chelsea boss Lampard is known to play five at the back in big games and Flick deployed Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba and Lucas Hernandez across his back line against Paderborn to free up players further ahead. But with two goals leaked, Hernandez still not fully fit and Alvaro Odriozola still finding his feet since joining from Real Madrid, it is likely that Benjamin Pavard will return along with Jerome Boateng in a tried and tested formula for the German giants.
Thomas Muller is also expected to start in London, meaning no place up front for Philippe Coutinho, who has struggled at Barcelona and now Bayern since leaving Liverpool in a record transfer to La Liga in 2018.
German striker Muller has something of a point to prove personally since he was unceremoniously dumped from his national side’s coach Joachim Low last March.
He has also been playing second fiddle at Bayern to Robert Lewandowski — who is the joint top scorer in the Champions League — but the Pole has given his strike partner a vote of confidence and claimed it is his presence that allows Lewandowski to thrive.
“It’s easier with Thomas next to me, he helps me out a lot,” Lewandowski said. “We always have one player more in the penalty area when he plays, I have more space and not always two or three opponents against me.”
Bayern will be out for revenge against Chelsea, having lost the 2012 final in their own stadium on penalties to the Londoners. But skipper and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is only focused on Tuesday’s game and no the past.
“We don’t need to speak about it,” said Neuer, who was on the losing side along with Muller that night back in 2012.
One winning player involved that night was Lampard — now the Chelsea boss, and he has a dilemma up front over who to leave out.
Olivier Giroud has spent much of Lampard’s tenure on the bench as youngsters such as Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have thrived. But the Frenchman fired in the opening goal against Tottenham on Saturday in his first league start since November. With Abraham just back from injury and not yet match fit, Lampard may opt for the World Cup winning Giroud ahead of Michy Batshuayi, who has been out of sorts lately. The big question is: can the Frenchman put in another world-class shift when Lampard needs it most?
NAPOLI V BARCELONA
Lionel Messi has once again answered the call and roared back to form just when his Barcelona team need him most.
The club have lurched from one crisis to another since the new year, with coach Ernesto Valverde replaced by former Real Betis coach Quique Setien, some questionable performances on the field and a couple of bad results, plus a public falling out between Messi himself and director of football Eric Abidal.
The Argentine was enduring a four-game goalless streak with the trip to Naples looking more and more concerning, but everyone at Camp Nou let out a collective sigh of relief when he banged in a quartet in the 5-0 romp over Eibar at the weekend to show he is still as lethal in front of goal as ever.
Barca will hope this performance can allow the players to focus on their field an book their place in the quarter-finals of a tournament they crave to get their hands on once again.
“It’s important that Messi is at his best,” Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic said after the Eibar game. “When he is playing well, it’s better for all of us.”
Gennaro Gattuso also seems to have righted the ship at Napoli. The Italian legend took over from Carlo Ancelotti with the club in disarray in December and players refusing to take part in a training camp.
They lost four of his first six matches in charge but have now won six of their past seven in all competitions — thanks to some tough love from Gattuso.
“You win over the squad by working hard every day, with rules, respect and coherence,” Gattuso told reporters.
“When you are managing 25 footballers and other people who you are in contact with every day, it is about finding the right words for everyone, telling them the truth. You have to say the bad things as well.”