Pep Guardiola faces an emotional return to Barcelona after his current club, Bayern Munich, were drawn to face them in the semi-final of the Champions League. In a classic last four the defending champions, Real Madrid, play Juventus in the other tie. The four clubs have between them won the competition 21 times in its 60-year history but there was little doubt about which plot-line deserved top billing.
Guardiola was both a playing and managerial hero at Barcelona, winning a host of honours, after emerging through the club’s youth system. As a player he won six league titles and the European Cup in 1992 while he added three more league titles and two Champions Leagues during his all-conquering four-year spell in managerial charge, which ended in 2012.
Guardiola joined Bayern at the beginning of last season and won the domestic league and cup double but a heavy Champions League semi-final defeat by Real was the major blot. Bayern are once again on course for the domestic double but Guardiola has said he must add the Champions League if the season is to be considered a success.
It will be the first time he has faced Barcelona in a competitive game – there was a charity friendly with Bayern shortly after he took over. The last time the clubs met in earnest was in the Champions League semi-final of 2013, when the German club won 7-0 on aggregate en route to the trophy. Guardiola was on sabbatical at the time.
“Everyone understands how special this game is for me, for Thiago [Alcântara, Bayern’s former Barcelona midfielder] and my staff,” Guardiola said. “Barcelona was our life. When you are in a semi-final, then you will always face a big team. What can I say? Barcelona is my home. I knew this would happen sooner or later. I am very happy that I can experience this. It’s a nice game but not easy. Believe me, Barcelona are the strongest.”
Guardiola was full of praise for Luis Enrique, his former Barcelona team-mate, who is now the club’s manager. “Barcelona are the best team at the moment and I am not surprised,” Guardiola said. “He [Luis Enrique] has a lot of quality. He is a great coach and a great man. They have brought in Neymar, [Luis] Suárez and they have a new coach. But, other than that, they still play the same, with the same mentality.”
Real are seeking to become the first club to win back-to-back titles since the Champions League format began in 1992. And the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, hopes to become the first man to lead teams to Europe’s top club title for a fourth time.
“Juventus are having a very good season and have practically won the Italian league,” said Ancelotti, who previously managed the Turin club. “That means they can focus more on the Champions League.” Juventus’s last semi-final was in 2003, when they beat Real before losing to Milan.
In the Europa League, the holders Sevilla will take on Fiorentina for a place in this season’s final.
Retaining the title would see the Spanish club win the competition for a record fourth time, although overcoming La Viola will be a big ask.
Fiorentina overcame Tottenham, Roma and Dynamo Kyiv en route to the last four and have home advantage for the second leg.
The other tie sees Rafael Benítez’s Napoli take on Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of Ukraine for a place in the Warsaw final, which takes place on 27 May.
The Europa League semi-final ties will be played on 7 May and 14 May.