LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The two former champions still left in the Champions League have to face each other for a chance to end their title drought in Europe.
Lionel Messi will lead Barcelona against Robert Lewandowski and Bayern Munich in Friday’s high-profile quarterfinal in Lisbon.
Both are five-time European champions, and both are in the quarterfinals for a record 18th time, but neither has lifted the European trophy recently. Barcelona’s last title was in 2015, and Bayern last won it in 2013.
Bayern and Barcelona are the only teams among the last eight to have won the competition. Atlético Madrid is the only other team to have made it to a final.
It will be the first time the European powerhouses meet in the Champions League since 2015, when Barcelona eliminated Bayern in the semifinals. They also met in the semifinals when Bayern last lifted the trophy in 2013, with the German team advancing 7-0 on aggregate.
“I don’t look too much at the past,” Bayern coach Hansi Flick said Thursday, through a translator. “The most important thing is the match tomorrow. Both teams have many qualities. And when these teams play against each other you also need a bit of luck.”
No team has more victories over Barcelona in the Champions League than Bayern — five in eight matches — and it is coming off a streak of eight straight victories in this season’s European competition. The last win was against Chelsea last week to secure its spot in the last eight.
“We know the potential of our rival, we are not going to downplay that,” Barcelona coach Quique Setién said on Thursday. “It’s true that they have an extraordinary potential, but so do we. It’s going to be an even match, and I’m certain that we will have our chances as well.”
Lewandowski has been Bayern’s biggest weapon, helping the team score a total of 24 goals in the group stage. The Polish forward had 34 goals in the Bundesliga this season, finishing only two behind Lazio’s Ciro Immobile in Seria A.
“Lewandowski is truly extraordinary,” said Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal, a former Bayern player. “He is very dangerous and it will be very hard to defend against him, but we will be prepared.”
Lewandowski is the top scorer in this season’s Champions League with 13 goals. He needs one more to reach 50 with Bayern in the competition. His total of 66 makes him the fourth highest scorer in Champions League history, behind Raúl González (71), Lionel Messi (115) and Cristiano Ronaldo (130).
Barcelona could see the return of Ousmane Dembélé to help in attack. The French forward has recovered from a long injury layoff and Setién said he may get some minutes off the bench during the tournament in Lisbon.
Messi was Barcelona’s leading scorer with 25 Spanish league goals this season, a disappointing one for the Catalan club. It could be the first for Barcelona without a major title since 2007-08. The team’s complicated season included a coaching change and public disputes between players and team officials.
Barcelona struggled after the Spanish league resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, relinquishing the league lead — and the title — to Real Madrid. It eliminated Napoli in the round of 16 of the Champions League, but only the European title will bring some peace back to the club and Setién.
“It’s the most important match of the year for us,” Vidal said. “We are hopeful that we can win this title. We know that Bayern had a spectacular year and that it will be difficult for us. But we are Barcelona and if we do what we know we can do, we have great chances of advancing. We will give everything we have.”
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