Saturday, 27 April 2013

OSM - Alles ist Wunderbar

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Perhaps for the initiated this was the week that was in German football when the Champions League’s two dominant aristocrats of the European club game were unravelled - with apparent ease - in the semi-finals of this year’s tournament. Firstly Barcelona in Munich and then Real Madrid in Dortmund twenty-four hours later. Leaving it odds on now that it will be an all-German final at Wembley next month unless the two la Liga teams manufacture the greatest of comebacks. Maybe an easier job for Real following the Dortmund demolition by 4-1 on Signal Iduna Park, and more so than for Barca who suffered Bayern Munich’s dismissal with no away goal to even give forlorn hope.

But both contests highlighted a new efficacy of the sport as currently played in the Bundesliga. Making Premier League viewing now of the proverbial paint drying kind given the percentage time the ball is in the air. Or passes are missed. Indeed, the two La Liga stalwarts were also shown upgraded revisions of Tikka takka football. Which for the impartial observers was a sheer beauty to behold with the flow of the yellow team very special on the night in Dortmund. All of which came as a shock to Real Madrid, albeit they left Dortmund ground back in late 2012 in the group round also defeated. But only by 2-1 on that occasion.

This time four stunning goals from Robert Lewandowski made this semi-final trip much more costly and perhaps harder to overcome in the return leg on April 30th. But with that game at home and the vital Ronaldo away goal the real target is only three goals – which is not insurmountable. The Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, believes that as in their last four La Liga outings they have scored at least three times. Then against Levante at the start of the month it was five. So the confidence is justifiable to a point.

However the Dortmund demolition was more than a lack of shots on target. It was the sheer speed, power and precision of the German players which left Ronaldo, Alonso, Khedira, Ozil a number of yards off pace. If not even chasing shadows and were hurried on the ball so much that even possession was an achievement in itself – as Goetze, Reus, Lewandowski harassed their Spanish guests from the off. 

It was the preciseness of the Borussia passing that was most remarkable difference, with balls rarely lofted over the top, preferring searing passes across the slick surface to release the skills of their attacking midfield. Leaving Madrid midfield bereft as Reus proves what a remarkable player he was on the night. And part of a new breed of smaller German players, blessed with amazing speed, superb ball skills and once touch control. A contrast to the taller players of a previous era’s like Michael Ballack, Christophe Metzelder, Per Metersacker. All more athletic, strong and maybe less skilful in comparison. As with the Bayern Munich Barcelona game, the game the Bavarians played was also at pace with lose passes noted on rare occasions.

For Madrid it what was effectively a 4-3-2-1 system from Dortmund that also overpowered defenders Coentrao, Varanne, Pepe and Sergio Ramos at right fullback. Who had a night that highlighted all his weakness when forced to defend 100% of the time and against faster opponents. But all over the field the team managed by J├╝rgen Klopp was bursting with the same spirit and youth reminiscent of Mourinho’s Porto side when they took the title against expert opinion with an enthusiastic group of young players responding to an unknown manager in 2004. Or the season Dave O’Leary’s exuberant Leeds United made it to the semi-final of the Champions League in 2001, playing a carefree brand of attacking football that at time was swift and magical. Not dissimilar to Borussia Dortmund.

A pale contrast with the staleness of the Premier League, with the kick and parry, the rough and shove of endless crosses and speculative long balls into fifty territory. The sharpness of Klopp’s charges on Wednesday night was sublime. The goals of Lewandowski not adequately summed up in words. Or accurately capturing his ability and talent on the night. Operating mostly in barely one square meter of space. Yet able to deliver three goals of the month in the one game. 

But as the facts show Madrid have turned around tough ties throughout their European history and hold the hallowed Santiago Bernabeu turf in such esteem that a comeback is almost expected next week. The most famous being in 1975 when reversing 4-1 first leg against Derby County home 5-1 with a Carlos Santillana goal in the 99th minute of extra time. Another Borussia, Monchengladbach, saw Real Madrid turn around a 5-1 first leg score line with a 4-0 in the second leg in the 85/86 UEFA Cup. A season earlier, Anderlecht travelled to Madrid with a 3-0 lead and returned to Belgium having been defeated 6-1. 

"Ninety minutes in the Bernabeu are very long", said the now passed way Real legend, Juanito, when speaking to Graziano Bini ahead of the match against Inter Milan in 1985. A phrase oft repeated ahead of these big battles as a reminder of the spirit of Real Madrid over the years. The Italians, arrived with a 2-0 lead, lost 3-0 that day in Real Madrid’s stadium. However this time it looks like a very special German team who have not lost to Real in the Group stage and so will travel to Madrid not lacking confidence.

Mourinho will be desperate to find a plan that will stifle Borussia's natural attacking flair. Who after all only need a goal to trigger their celebrations and end Madrid’s’ already tough task and repeat the disappointment of last season at the same stage and same venue. Also against a German team, Bayern and a former manager, Jupp Heycknes.

Further down the A9 autobahn another bit of history was also written as last year’s runners-up halted Barcelona in their tracks by four goals to nil. Heralding the arrival of a new dynasty perhaps, with the arrival of Pep Guardiola next season only adding to the promises. Two goals from Tomas Mueller, Arjen Robben and Gomez ending the Catalan dream works and totally neutralising the normal effective play of Iniesta, Xavi and Pedro. At the Allianz Arena it ground to a halt as the Germans used a speedier game plan to crowd out the La Liga Champions. Albeit Lionel Messi was clearly playing while not 100 percent fit. 

Regardless, the German team were magnificent with Dante, Albaba, Lahm directing from the back, and Ribery alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, immaculate. Not unlike the semi-final last season at the Bernabeu when Schweinsteiger directed operations for the Munich team – and scored the winning penalty for a place in the final. It was seem that four goals to the good leaves them in a comfortable place, even if there is reason to suggest Barca are capable of anything when the need arises. But on other nights its Messi who produces the magic. In his current health he may not be even part of any comeback story this time around.

For Munich though the chance to revenge last year’s final loss at their home ground looks ever closer.

For Madrid there is just an outside chance they can win the then title. Dream on say Borussia no doubt!
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