Lionel Messi celebrates his strike for Barcelona against Napoli.
Lionel Messi celebrates his strike for Barcelona against Napoli. Image Credit: AFP

For all his accolades and his abundance of talent, Lionel Messi has probably never faced a more daunting task than the one at hand for him and his Barcelona teammates.

The Catalan club go into their one-legged Champions League clash with German giants Bayern Munich in Libson on Friday night in unfamiliar territory — they are the underdogs.

The two European heavyweights have served up decades of classic battles on the grandest stage of club football, and they have five replica European Cups apiece proudly on display in their respective trophy cabinets, representing the 10 times they have triumphed in the elite competition between them.

It will be a strange test for both sides when they meet behind closed doors at the Estadio da Luz on Friday night, as the coronavirus pandemic as meant this year’s competition must be completed as a mini-tournament in Portugal.

It is not often that Messi’s Barcelona go into a last-eight Champions League match as the unfancied side, but that is exactly what we have in store, such is Bayern’s dominant style and the Catalans’ own faltering form. Quique Setien’s team have relinquished their La Liga title to arch-rivals Real Madrid as they slogged their way to the end of the elongated season in Spain. Bayern, meanwhile, have barely missed a step as they marched to a Bundesliga and German Cup double since the resumption of football across Europe post COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Messi has been called upon to rescue Barcelona time and again in the Champions League, and he delivers more often than not.

He scored twice against Bayern in the quarter-finals in 2009 when Barcelona went on to win the Champions League under Pep Guardiola.

He hit four against Arsenal the following year and five against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012 but on both occasions, Barca were favourites.

Messi also sank Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2011 when his double in the first leg of the semi-final.

And he was part of perhaps the tournament’s greatest comeback, the 6-1 destruction of Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 after Barcelona lost 4-0 in the first leg of that last-16 tie.

He also raised his game and his teammates to see off Napoli in the round of 16 only last week at the age of 33.

Mess has his evergreen partners up front — Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann — and can rely on Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba to provide the service. Barcelona also have the brilliant Gerard Pique at the back and the safe hands of Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks.

Lewandowski celebrates his opener for Bayern against Chelsea
Lewandowski celebrates his opener for Bayern against Chelsea Image Credit: AFP

But still, on paper, that does not seem to be enough to halt the Bayern juggernaut this time around.

“Bayern are playing really well and are full of confidence but we have the weapons to beat them,” Griezmann told Barca TV.

Messi can work his magic in front of goal, but he will be powerless to halt the inevitable waves of Bayern attack that will put Barca under extreme pressure on Friday night.

That brings up to another Barca concern, that Bayern tear them apart.

In Robert Lewandowski they have Europe’s most fearsome striker — he has scored 53 goals this season, including 13 in the Champions League, more than anyone else. He is ably assisted by Thomas Mueller, who has discovered a new lease of life under coach Hansi Flick. The rest of the likely line-up would walk into the starting XI of any club in the world: Neuer, Kimmich, Boateng, Alaba, Davies; Thiago, Goretzka; Coman, Gnabry. In a mental battle between the keepers, Manuel Neuer is the man who keeps Ter Stegen on the bench while on Germany duty.

A thrashing would see Setien sacked for sure, and Barcelona would take time to recover from such a humiliation that would officially confirm they are no longer the European force everyone once feared. More unrest and shame at the club could also see Messi depart — he has recently been very vocal and critical about the way the club he has been at since he was a boy.

Catch the match

Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Estadio da Luz
Broadcast on beIN Sports