Archive for the ‘Champions League’ Category

The Champions League climax no one saw coming is final-ly (sorry!) upon us.

This was supposed to be the ultimate El Clasico; the grandest game on the grandest stage.

Not one, but two teams decided to spoil the party. And it could be even better for it.

Bayern’s role in the final was always set to be hosts. However, while it had long been known the game would be played at their home, no one expected them to be in.

Chelsea, meanwhile, thwarted their modern rivals Barcelona. They came through far from unscathed, but came through nonetheless.

Both sides have had casualties, mostly because of suspension. David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Luis Gustavo miss out for Bayern. Chelsea’s losses were even greater: Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and, of course, John Terry are all forced to sit this one out.

The defence of both teams is where the suspensions have stung the most, and could well have the greatest impact on the game. The loss of Badstuber and Alaba means the left half of Bayern’s back four is missing.

Philipp Lahm will switch to left back, where he is equally as excellent, but the incoming Rafinha at right back and Daniel van Buyten at centre half are less so, and the likes of Juan Mata and Didier Drogba will more than fancy their chances against them.

It’s the same story for Chelsea, who will likely see a centre back pairing of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, and are set to be in for a tough night against the freescoring Mario Gomez. Similarly, Franck Ribery will be licking his lips at the thought of running at Jose Bosingwa.

In midfield, meanwhile, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien will need to turn the clock back and play like their old selves against a midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos. The former is rightly regarded as one of the best central midfielders in the world, and Kroos – who has had a stellar season – will surely be in time.

It’s likely to be a fairly tight affair, and Chelsea will need to be at their Barcelona-beating best to come away with their win. In my opinion, especially given the fact they’re virtually the away side, that will be a bridge too far.

Key Man: Toni Kroos. Talk will be of Gomez, ‘Robbery’, Mata, Drogba and so on. But it’s the young midfielder who is capable of pulling all the strings.

Prediction: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea

Who do you think will win? Make a prediction in the comments section below…

Arjen Robben returns to the Bernabeu tonight, looking to knock his former club out of the Champions League.

He will have every right to feel aggrieved at his departure from Real Madrid; after all, he played a huge role in winning them the league in his first season.

He joined Los Merengues from Chelsea for a fee mooted to be around £24m in 2007, and his impact, while not immediate, certainly cannot be underestimated.

He scored five goals that season, but all of them came in the last four months of the campaign.

Corey Fiske, of Real Madrid Football Blog, said: “The fact that he almost single handedly brought Real Madrid to a league title after an awful start to the campaign…speaks volumes of his talent.”

Madrid narrowly missed out on a league title in his second season, one that would prove to be his last. That was despite another string of fine performances individually, which saw him score eight goals in 37 games.

The second coming of Florentino Perez, and with him Los Galacticos II, meant that Robben, in his view, forced out. By his own admission, he “didn’t want to go” but “the club wanted to sell me.”

He has a remarkable habit of winning the league title in his first season, having done so at PSV and Chelsea as well as Madrid, and a move to Bayern Munich saw that trend continue.

He scored 16 league goals that season, 23 overall, to help propel Bayern not only to the league title but also the Champions League final – albeit one they lost.

His second season was partially derailed by injury, and it was clear to see as Bayern lost their grip on the league to Borussia Dortmund, and were knocked out of the Champions League – by Inter, the same team who’d beaten them in the previous final – in the last 16.

This season, he has been instrumental in the progress to the Champions League semi final, and his importance has become plain to see.

Edson Karimi, of Red Robbery, said: “Is Robben better now? The stats say yes; 0.6 goals per match for Bayern as opposed to 0.2 for Madrid.

“He certainly is more important for Munich and any hope for a FCB win can only come true if Robben plays at his best.”

Fiske, however, has a slightly different view. He said: “[Robben] is a great player, but maybe he should have been more, on level with a Messi or Ronaldo, but because of his physical frailty, and I dare say his mental frailty, he will never be one of the best. His selfish play can affect a team, and its no question he can have an adverse affect on games.

“He has done well at Bayen too, but would anyone say he is an important player of the club, or merely an excellent player that is on the squad? That’s how I viewed his time at Real.”

Tonight, the stage is set for Robben to prove Madrid wrong. Only time will tell if he’s up to the challenge. Whether he is or not could well decide who wins.

Below is a reminder of what Robben is capable of in the Champions League:

 

Germany’s most successful side take on Europe’s, as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid revive an old rivalry.

Munich have won the Champions League four times – more than any other German side; Madrid have won it nine times – more than any other side in history. Neither, however, have done so in ten years.

Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes is no stranger to this competition, or to Real Madrid: he led Los Blancos to the Champions League title back in 1998. His opposite number, Jose Mourinho, has won this competition twice: firstly, with Porto in 2004, and then with Inter in 2010, when they beat the Bavarians in the final.

Bayern aren’t exactly heading into this game in the best form. On Saturday, they were held to a 0-0 draw with Mainz, in a rather dull encounter. More pertinently, they lost to Dortmund last Wednesday, and also lost any chance they had of winning the title.

By contrast, things are going extremely well for Madrid. On Saturday, they brushed off Sporting Gijon with a fairly routine 3-1 win. Last Wednesday, they stuck four past their city rivals Atletico, and they’re currently four points clear of Barcelona in La Liga.

Having both rested players at the weekend, neither side has any real injury concerns. Bastian Schweinsteiger may not be fully match fit, but such is his importance that he is likely to start.

There are likely to be a few key battles throughout the pitch, not least if Mourinho decides to pit Cristiano Ronaldo against the young Austrian David Alaba, who is in line to start at left back.

Similarly, Bayern’s biggest threats could come from out wide, with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben – who has a point to prove against the club that sold him – coming up against the solid if unspectacular Alvaro Arbeloa and the attack-minded Marcelo.

Mario Gomez is the second highest scorer in the Champions League this season, with 11 goals (only Lionel Messi has more), while the in-form Karim Benzema may just get the nod over Gonzalo Higuain.

The odds seem to be in the favour of Madrid, something supported by Edson Karimi of Bayern blog Red Robbery. He said: “Real Madrid play the second leg at home, have a deeper squad and can win dirty whereas Bayern need the lead, struggle to play well without the ball and haven’t been in a good form recently.”

His sentiments were echoed by Corey Fiske, of Real Madrid Football Blog, who said: “I am very confident in the match, but I would not go so far as to say we will make the final. Being favorites is fine, but I will not say we will win the tie, only that I like our chances and given Bayern’s loss to Dortmund and draw to Mainz, their loss of the league title yet again has to give Real Madrid a psychological advantage. Then again, if Real were to lose the Clasico sandwiched in between the two legs, the tables could turn. It should be a great tie, and I am looking forward to it.”

Let the games begin…

Prediction: 1-2

 

Make your own prediction, or discuss the potential teams etc, using the comments box…

An old, infamous rivalry is set to be renewed when Bayern Munich face Real Madrid in the Champions League semi final.

It is a clash of kings: both the richest and most successful club in their respective country, both have conquered Europe, yet neither have reigned supreme in a decade.

It is a longstanding, fierce battle, one of history, and honour, or perhaps lack thereof.

Their first meeting was also in a Champions League (then the European Cup) semi final, back in 1976 – and it was right from these early beginnings the lines were drawn.

Corey Fiske, of Real Madrid Football Blog, said: “The first meeting back in 1976 was certainly the beginning, but they may have been early overtones given the way both clubs viewed themselves in Europe and how their club presidents went about acting during the early stages of European competition. I personally think that because Real Madrid employed a few German players like Stieleke, Schuster, Netzer and Breitner during the 70s and 80s, the rivalry got amplified that much more”

This was a ‘golden age’ for Bayern, the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Gerd Muller among their ranks. They had already won two consecutive European Cups, and with victory over Madrid, they went on to make it a historic third.

Madrid, meanwhile, were hit with a five-year ban from the competition (later reduced to three games played away), after a fan – El loco del Bernabéu – ran onto the pitch and attacked a linesman.

In both 1980 and 1981 the two sides met in ‘friendly’ matches, though it would not be accurate to call them as such. The first, Bayern walked away with a staggering 9-1 win. The second, Bayern’s Klaus Augenthaler made offensive gestures towards the Real fans. He was sent-off, his teammates walked-off, the match was abandoned.

Another European Cup semi final arrived in 1987, and this one came with all the animosity of the first, plus that which had been built over a decade.  Again, it was The Bavarians who were the victors; although they did not go on to lift the trophy that year. And, again, it was not the football people were left talking about.

After a penalty was awarded to Bayern, Madrid striker Juanito – whose past included assaulting a linesman and spitting at an opponent – lost his head, and stamped on that of Lothar Mattaus. He received a five-year ban, and unlike Madrid’s 11 years previously, this was not reduced.

According to Edson Karimi, of Bayern blog Red Robbery, this is when it became a true rivalry. He said: “The real ‘hate’ began in 1987 with Juanito’s momentary lapse of sanity and the following war-like battles in ’87 and ’88. Elbow checks, kicks both below and above the belt, these meetings had everything that makes football ugly. It might sound simple but I do think that things would’ve looked a lot different without that challenge by Juanito against Lothar Matthäus.”

A year later, in the same competition, albeit at the quarter final stage, Madrid finally made it past Bayern, although they did not manage to go all the way.

Another eleven years passed, before a run of games between 1999 and 2004, a time when it seems both sides were at a peak. In fact, every champions League final between 1998 and 2002 featured either Bayern or Madrid, but never both.

In that 1999-2000 campaign they met four times, twice in the group stage and then yet another semi final meeting. Remarkably, Bayern beat Los Meringues three times out of four, but it was still Madrid who went on to the final and lifting the trophy.

The following season and, for the third time it was Die Roten who came through the semi final encounter with Los Blancos as the winners, and for the second time it resulted in them going on to win the whole thing. It was a fourth Champions League title for the German outfit, and one that took them to exactly half of Madrid’s tally.

The pair had to settle for a quarter final meeting in 2001-02, and although Bayern won the first leg, it was Madrid who progressed. Just like they had two years earlier, they made it count by going on to win the trophy, beating another German side – Bayer Leverkusen – in the final, with Zinedine Zidane scoring ‘that’ goal.

Madrid made it to the semi finals again in 2003, but this time they did not find the Bavarians awaiting them. Instead, their reward for making it through their epic clash with Manchester United – which finished 6-5 on aggregate – was an Old Lady. The Old Lady. Juventus. And it was the Italians who won, before going on to lose to Milan in the final. Bayern, meanwhile, had not even made it past the first stage – coming bottom of a group including Lyon, Deportivo and i Rossoneri.

The olds foes were reunited in 2004, on the slightly less grand stage of the first knockout round. It was Madrid who progressed, the last time – until the arrival of Jose Mourinho – that they made it as far as the quarter finals.

2007 saw the two meet once more in the first knockout round, and this time it was Bayern who were making it through to the quarter finals, with help from Roy Makaay, who scored the fastest ever Champions League goal.

That was to be the last time the sides would end up drawn together in this tournament. Five years since they last played, ten since one of them won the competition, and now the two lock horns again in a bid to regain their crown.

For Bayern, it is a chance to play in the final at their own stadia, the Allianz Arena. For Madrid, as in the league, it is a chance to reclaim that which they have not held in far too long. Awaiting them in the final, if – as predicted – they get past Chelsea, will be Barcelona, who have occupied the throne in the absence of these two giants. Only one will be able to fight for the right to get it back.

You can read a preview of the semi final, first leg between the two sides here.