Bayern's 'Messi' could be difference against Barca
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
French midfielder Franck Ribery has earned a few nicknames in recent weeks, including "France Ribery" after scoring back-to-back game-winning goals in two World Cup qualifiers.
French teammate Thierry Henry gave his countryman the most impressive nickname, though, when he called the Bayern Munich star the "Messi" of Bayern.
"He can always create something, even with very little space. With his quality, he'll always be capable of hurting Barca, Real, Manchester United or whoever," said Henry, a Barcelona striker.
"You might even say he's something like the Messi of Bayern."
Obviously, Henry was not comparing his Barcelona teammate directly with Ribery, but just to mention the two names together in the same sentence speaks volumes.
Ribery signed with Bayern in June of 2007 for a club-record $33.6 million, and has just increased his value since. He's priceless according to Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness, who insisted the Germany club will not sell Ribery for any price.
But with the Champions League quarterfinals starting this week - Ribery and the German champions visit Henry, Messi and Barcelona on Wednesday - the Frenchman is being hunted by Barcelona, Manchester United and most of Europe's other top clubs.
Franck has 10 goals and nine assists in all competitions.
Ribery is the one player who transforms Bayern from a good club into a great club, like Messi turns Barcelona from a great club into an unbeatable club.
If Ribery - who has 10 goals and nine assists in all competitions - can upstage Messi in the Champions League, his price tag literally would become priceless.
"Franck is hugely influential for Bayern, and also for the national team - he's hugely influential from the moment he steps out onto the field," French manager Raymond Domenech said. "Great players have to justify their reputation for both club and country, and Franck does it every time."
He just hasn't done it against a team like Barcelona. Or on the same stage with a player like Messi, who has 30 goals and 13 assists for Barcelona this season.
Obviously, Messi has the better supporting cast with teammates Henry (20 goals, nine assists) and Samuel Eto'o (28 goals, five assists) also in a lineup that only two Bayern players - Ribery and Brazilian defender Lucio - would likely be able to crack.
"We'll need superb performances on both occasions if we're to survive. But with total concentration, we're a match for anybody," Bayern Munich midfielder Hamit Alintop said.
Even Bayern Munich captain Mark van Bommel, a starter on Barca's 2006 Champions League winner, admitted "our aim has to be not to lose [the opening leg], or at least not too heavily."
Bayern enters the first leg following a crushing 5-1 loss to Wolfsburg. and the Camp Nou is not an inviting place to play. Barcelona tied Lyon in the first leg of the round of 16 1-1 in France, but returned home to crush the French club in the second leg to advance on aggregate, 6-3.
Bayern does have history on its side with European wins over Barcelona twice in the 1990s, though. In the 1995-96 season, Bayern and Barca met in the UEFA Cup with the teams tying 2-2 in the first leg in Munich before Bayern defeated Barca 2-1 at the Camp Nou. Three seasons later, Bayern won 1-0 in Germany and 2-1 in Spain in the group stage of the Champions League.
The German champions are not quite the same club they were in the '90s and early 2000s, when it went to the Champions League final in 1999 and won in 2001. But, Bayern does now have Ribery, who would have easily found a niche on those great teams. He's helped the team go 6-0-2 in the Champions League and outscore teams 24-6, including a 12-1 aggregate win over Sporting Lisbon in the round of 16.
Barca still has the only Messi, though, and should be too much for Ribery and Bayern, which will be without the tournament's co-scoring leader Miro Klose, at this stage of the world's premier club event.
PREDICTION: Barcelona advances on aggregate, 5-3.
Following is a glance at the rest of the quarterfinal knockout stage series, which start Tuesday or Wednesday and wrap up April 14-15 with the second legs:
CHELSEA VS. LIVERPOOL
Chelsea and Liverpool are meeting for the fourth time in the last five seasons in the knockout stage of the Champions League. The previous three clashes were in the semifinals, with Liverpool winning in 2004-05 and 2006-07, and Chelsea winning last season. All three previous meetings have been decided by one goal - or in penalties.
Liverpool has the edge this season, ending Chelsea's long home winning streak with a 1-0 win on a Jose Bosingwa own goal and then adding a 2-0 win at Anfield thanks to a pair of goals by Fernando Torres on Feb. 1.
Liverpool has been in great form since disposing of Real Madrid in the round of 16, 5-0 on aggregate. After blasting Real in the second leg 4-0, Liverpool crushed Manchester United 4-1, then beat Aston Villa 5-0.
The Reds nearly slipped up at Fulham on Saturday, but Yossi Benayoun scored in stoppage time to secure a 1-0 victory.
Captain Steven Gerrard has been key to Liverpool's recent form, and Chelsea's John Terry admitted it was a bad time to face his English teammate.
"He's one of the best players in the world, that's for sure. He's in great form at the minute," Chelsea and England captain Terry said. "I'm sort of dreading going there to play him because he is different class."
Still, Terry said the Blues are excited about the series.
"It's going to be a big clash and we're thoroughly looking forward to it," he said.
Chelsea disposed of Juventus in the round of 16, winning the first leg 1-0 and tying the second leg 2-2 to advance. Chelsea has been in good form in the EPL as well, winning five of its last six.
The Blues were without Didier Drogba - who scored the extra-time winner in last season's Champions League semifinal - in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Newcastle.
Drogba has been revived under new coach Guus Hiddink, and the Blues will need him to have a chance to get by Liverpool. Drobga has three goals in Champions League play - including one in each leg against Juventus - and two more in the Premier League in just nine games.
PREDICTION: Liverpool advances on aggregate, 2-1.
MANCHESTER UNITED VS. FC PORTO
Manchester United had dropped back-to-back games in the EPL - 4-1 to Liverpool and 2-0 at Fulham - before World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo had two goals to help the club edge Aston Villa, 3-2 on Sunday.
So don't worry too much about the two-game slide, because United - which hasn't lost in 21 straight Champions League matches - remains on target to defend its tournament title.
After tying Inter Milan 0-0 in the first leg of the round of 16 and beating the Italians 2-0 in the second leg, veteran manager Sir Alex Ferguson said "we can play better than that, and I am sure we will be better in the next round."
On top of that, Ferguson said the consecutive losses in England were a wake-up call. Although United played Sunday, it remains at Old Trafford for the opening leg.
United's Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes all didn't play in Sunday's match, and all four starters will be fresh Tuesday.
Manchester will be without striker Dimitar Berbatov, who has 13 goals and eight assists in all competitions, but Carlos Tevez and his 12 goals and five assists will slide in alongside Rooney.
So, Porto faces the Everest-like challenge in this round. The club sits atop the table in Portugal and is unbeaten in 21 in a row in all competitions - including a 2-0 win over Arsenal in the Champions League group stage - but hasn't seen anything like United this season.
Porto is led by 11-goal scorers Lucho Gonzalez and Lisandro Lopez, but another magical run - the club captured the 2004 Champions League title - is not in the cards this season.
PREDICTION: Manchester United advances on aggregate, 5-0.
ARSENAL VS. VILLARREAL
Arsenal split its round of 16 clash with Roma, winning 1-0 in England and losing 1-0 in Italy, but advanced on penalty kicks, 7-6. The English clubs form wasn't very impressive around those matches, based on four straight scoreless draws in the EPL. Still, Arsenal is undefeated in 17 straight EPL matches and has poured in 12 goals in its last four league contests.
Russian star Andrei Arshavin, added in the winter transfer window, has been a difference maker and captain Cesc Fabregas returned from a three-month absence Saturday. Coach Arsene Wenger remembers Villarreal from the 2006 semifinals, when Jens Lehmann stopped a late penalty kick in the second leg to preserve a 1-0 win on aggregate. Arsenal lost the final to Barcelona, but is playing well enough to make another run at the title match.
"We have learned that to knock out any Spanish team is very difficult," Wenger said. "The return leg at Villarreal [in their 2006 semifinal] was a very tough game for us. We know we have to prepare really well for the first game."
Villarreal advanced with a 3-2 aggregate win over Panathinaikos but overall has not looked great in the CL or the Spanish La Liga. Villarreal is just 5-4-4 in Spain since the turn of the new year, and was just throttled by Almeria 3-0 on Saturday.
The Yellow Submarines have plenty of talent - including American-born Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi and his 15 goals and six assists - but don't measure up to the English giants. With three English clubs advancing, the EPL will account for three of the four semifinalists for the third straight year.