Monday, 28 April 2014


Europe's Finest.
It is often the case that first legs of the semi-finals are not decisive (yes, even with a 4-1 lead like Dortmund had against Madrid last year). I wasn’t surprised that Atletico v Chelsea and Real Madrid v Bayern Munchen were low scoring.  As the competition gets to the last quartet, you have the best four teams in Europe squaring up against each other and there is difficulty in overcoming opposition.
As both ties are finely poised, I will attempt to forecast the route to the final for two teams in two different offerings.

FC BAYERN MUNCHEN VS REAL MADRID (ALLIANZ ARENA): Madrid leads 1-0 from 1st leg.

BAYERN MUNCHEN: It is funny how being a superior team can sometimes be costly. Bayern won the Bundesliga with seven games to spare and the mind-set of the players has displayed some kind of entropy, and a mental drop of 2-3 percent has ensued. While there has been criticism from most of the media, the harshest critic has been in house, with Franz Beckenbauer expressing dissatisfaction with Die Bayern’s inability to stick or twist.

De Kaiser has his opinions.
This plague presented itself in the first leg of the UCL semi-finals in Madrid. With More than 70% possession in most phases of the game, Bayern boasted a half volley from substitute Mario Götze as their key assault on target. Many fans have immediately savaged the Pep Guardiola philosophy of “let’s pass them to death” but there is a well-known fickleness in fandom.

I have to say, all the criticism is stimulus for an immediate Bayern response and I think Bayern will approach this game at a high intensity. The Lahm-Schweinsteiger-Kroos dynamic in midfield will not remain as Lahm will return to right back in order to compensate for Ronaldo’s actions in the game.

The rest of the Bayern defence including the Lev Yashin like Manuel Neuer will remain the same and are well equipped to combat Real’s offensive motions. In my opinion, the midfield is set for Javi Martinez to return as he balances out the offensive posture Bayern will adopt. He will work hand in hand with Schweinsteiger and Kroos but really Götze should start in Kroos’s place. 

He offers the penetration and dribbling ability that could unsettle Xabi Alonso and Modric in midfield. Götze will miss out though because of his inability to dig in and tackle when the transition is against Bayern. 

Arjen Robben will continue on the right and exacerbate Muller’s unhappiness in Bayern some more while on the left, we’ll see Ribery perform.

Ribery has been less exciting since January; many have linked this malaise to not winning the Ballon D’or. It is necessary he gets over that and continues his magnificence or the greater laurels will pass him by. 

In attack, Mario Mandzukic is a destined starter as the intelligence of Claudio pizarro is better exploited for end-game impact.

Guardiola knows first-hand the perils of all out offence but his tactic will be 65% offence and 35% defence with lots of interchange down the wings by Lahm and Robben on the right. This is to exploit Cristiano Ronaldo’s perceived distaste to track back.  Schweinsteiger will make late runs into the box when Mandzukic runs diagonally for the first post or second post and kroos will take the license to shoot if not closed down. He like Lukas Podolski requires little backlift to let off a shot and Real will be aware of this. The right half of Real Madrid’s defence (Ramos and carvajal) will be under siege all night and might yield without adequate shielding from the midfield.

REAL MADRID: After Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid seek to eliminate a third German team from this competition. They will have no support in Germany that’s for sure. 

Ancelotti and Ronaldo.
Regardless, they are in a great moment. Ancelotti manages his team like only Sir Alex Ferguson could. This management saw his side get through largely unscathed when Ronaldo was ailing. With the Portuguese returning, Madrid has the kind of big game player that is ready to take all the responsibility for success……or failure!

Looking at the team dynamics, Real’s team somewhat picks itself doesn’t it? Iker Casillas is likely to be in goal if Madrid win a second trophy this season. You sometimes feel for Diego Lopez due to how the la liga is playing out, but that’s for another day.

Carvajal- Ramos and Pepe poses no debate as the defence lines up but the left side of the system is real Madrid’s strength, so who man’s the foundation, Coentrao or Marcelo? I will go with Fabio Coentrao. And here are my reasons:

Coentrao is a left sided Arbeloa, a player who is more balanced in defensive and offensive optics of his play.  In recent games, his understanding with Pepe (who barring his behaviour is Madrid’s best defender) is unique. Both play in an exact manner during national duties for Portugal. They communicate effectively and also heckle attackers together whether appropriately or inappropriately. This other reason i talk about real’s strength on the left side is because of Cristiano Ronaldo. He completes a Portuguese hegemony down that flank.

The Portuguese trio.
Coentrao’s very intimate friendship with Ronaldo means he is prepared to take up the defensive onus on the entire left flank of Madrid’s set up. He does it regularly when they play together for Madrid and Portugal but on this occasion, the gift horse (Coentrao) might need milk with Robben and Lahm coming at him down that flank for 90+ minutes.

A midfield of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel di maria is sufficient for any battle that isn’t aerial, but thankfully there won’t be any worries about that because Bayern are keen to keep the leather on the deck.

In the Trident offence, the question is, BBC OR BIC? Bale, Benzema, Cristiano  or Benzema, Isco, Cristiano?
Those in love with fantasy have condemned my question already, ‘of course it’s the BBC’ they say. But the case for Isco is the fact that he slots in well when Real morph into a 4-4-2 without the ball. There’s food for thought here!

My issues with Benzema’s concentration during games persists and if Ronaldo decides to help Coentrao tomorrow, he will be dragged deeper and Benzema must be aggressive enough to exploit spaces and skilful enough to beat Boateng in the left channel during the swift counters Madrid perpetuate.

And Bale you ask? He will have a task taking on Alaba but his moment will come from 70minutes onwards because of his boundless amounts of stamina. Madrid will need him because Ronaldo might not be able to play a full 90minutes without suffering due to his physical situation. The possibility of extra time is another reason I say that Bale will become the reference from 70minutes onwards.

MY VERDICT: For Bayern, i often ponder the wisdom of starting such a strong team without disguise on the bench. How can Bayern strengthen their team if they need to change the game? Only Kroos, Mandzukic and Javi Martinez are susceptible to substitution as almost all other players i have mentioned seem untouchable and are main contributors to the mechanism of the team. If everything put on the pitch in the beginning fails, Only Götze offers something different from the bench. Thiago’s absence is a huge negative.

Real Madrid will need ice cold nerves not to be overwhelmed by the situation. Also a strong mentality to break the barrier of three consecutive failures during semi-finals in the Champions league must be brought to bear. This game will be won or lost with Carlo Ancelotti’s message in the dressing room.

I see Bayern scoring thrice and I see Real Madrid scoring Twice. I expect that kind of game. Caution will be thrown to the wind at many moments.

As always, I stand to be corrected but I want to know what you think, leave your comments in the box below.

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