Champions League semis offer up a treat
Published: 24.04.13 / Written by: David Gold
Next week’s Champions League semi finals promise to be among the most exciting in recent years.
It is not often that you can look at the last four in Europe’s top competition and say that yes, they are the four single best sides on the continent. Usually, given that it is a cup competition, the best are knocked out before this stage. Not so this year.
And so we move onto Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid and Bayern Munich v Barcelona full of anticipation. Dortmund v Real is a repeat of their clash in the group stage. In those games, Dortmund came out on top, deservedly winning at the Westfalonstadion and then coming within minutes of doing the same thing in Madrid.
It should be another set of well competed duels between the sides. Dortmund don’t seem quite at the same level as they were then but logic dictates that this means the matches between them in the semis should be extremely even, given how the Germans had a clear advantage in the group stage.
Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Mario Gotze are quite a threesome going forward and they can strike fear into any defence. Sergio Ramos, Pepe and company will have to be wary and on their best form to keep them out. But then at the other end Madrid have Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil. That array of talent can really hurt Dortmund on the break. Dortmund will look to press Madrid back and force them onto the defensive, but Madrid like to break at speed and so this should be an open encounter which yields plenty of goals. The most clinical team should win, although Madrid have a poor record against German sides, particularly Bayern Munich.
Then there is the clash between Bayern Munich and Barcelona which has got the continent purring. Pep Guardiola’s future side against the one he essentially built. It is a game which few can predict, so closely matched are the two sides. How can you separate a team who have steamrollered the opposition at home and abroad all season and, err….a team who have crushed all who challenged them all season.
These are two teams who have utterly dominated their leagues from start to finish. Both started the campaign with a run of successive wins and both have had a convincing European campaign. They have both stumbled. Barcelona were beaten in Milan and had to rely on away goals and Leo Messi to beat Paris St Germain. Bayern Munich lost to BATE Borisov in the group stage and were almost knocked out by Arsenal after winning the first leg 3-1.
These are two sides with vulnerabilities but subtle differences there are. Both will try to press high, but Barcelona like to pass the ball through the centre, whereas Bayern look to utilise wide areas and play a more direct game – a more obvious game if you like. Bayern’s system has been ominously effective, sweeping all before them. But then Barcelona are one of the greatest teams of all time, with possibly the best player of all time in Messi. With Andres Iniesta and Xavi, if they are both fit and on form, and they should be, how can you count against Los Cules?
The final will be just as tantalising. Dortmund v Barcelona, Madrid v Bayern, Madrid v Barca or Dortmund v Bayern, whoever gets there it will be exceptionally tight. But this must be what UEFA marketing executives dream of. One of the most exciting conclusions to the competition in many a year awaits.