Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Many Paths on the Road to Milan

Milano 2016 - UEFA
It could be that Josep Guardiola wins the silverware in Milan in May for Bayern Munich and then moves to Manchester in the summer seeking to recover the same said Champions League trophy, for his new club Manchester City. Adding to the already secured trophies for his former employers, and boyhood club, FC Barcelona in 2009 and 2011. Should he fail to overcome the semi-final opponents and not win the trophy for his German employers this will all be anecdotal irony and Guardiola head off to will set up new objectives for the Etihad Stadium team. 

And based on recent results and the close calls with Juventus in the last sixteen, and to some degree Benfica in the quarterfinals, Bayern need to get sharper to enable Pep completes his Bavarian mission – and capture the last piece of his jigsaw for Bayern – absent since his predecessor Jupp Heynckes brought it home from Wembley in 2013.

But perhaps the draw will throw up another configuration and see Real Madrid renew their European battle with the Bavarians, who over the years, have usually proved an unsurmountable hurdle to Florentino Perez’s ambitions. In 2012 Jose Mourinho’s ambitions were ended in the Santiago Bernabeu by the Munich team following penalties, with Dortmund ending their hopes a season later. In Lisbon in the 2014 Final, Atletico Madrid were the injury time victims for a Carlo Ancelotti Madrid team who had already reeked revenge on Bayern in the semi-final. 

Last season Bayern and Madrid avoided each other with both teams falling at semi-final stage to Barcelona and Juventus respectively. A return meeting for Bayern - with Pep at the helm - in Madrid would recall bygone memories of Old Clasico epics. As well as bring Xabi Alonso back to his alma mater having left the club a few seasons ago for Germany.

For Pep though a fate worse than death might have been that feared meeting with Barcelona in the final four. However, Diego Simeone demolished that demon at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night and so its odds on Bayern will meet one of the Madrid teams. Back in 1974 Bayern and Atletico Madrid met in the Champions League final at the Heysel Stadium with the German team – not surprisingly - winning the first of their three European Cups that May evening. Their side a “de facto” German international team that just a few weeks later would lift the World Cup Jules Rimet trophy in Munich. Also captained by Franz Beckenbauer and featuring Munich stars Paul Breitner, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Gerd Mueller, Uli Hoeness and Sepp Maier. 

With Atletico Madrid showing more modestly perhaps, Heredia from Argentina, Miguel Reina - father of Liverpool keeper Pepe- and the legendary Spanish 2008 EURO winning coach, Luis Aragones, also in the playing ranks. It proved a long night for Atleti then in Brussels and they lost by four goals. A result which would be unlikely to be repeated under Simeone’s defensive system.

With Manuel Pellegrini the intrigue would be a return to the club which fired him after losing La Liga to Barcelona by a mere three points in 2009 – despite amassing a total of 96 points in La Liga that year and beating the previous Real Madrid record set by John Toshack. Which was then surpassed in by José Mourinho in the 2011–12 season. For City to snatch a victory, from the jaws of Perez, would no doubt please Pellegrini should it come to pass - and secure passage to that Final in Milan as a result. It would also sit nicely with his Premier League silverware secured in 2104. 

Should Pellegrini draw Simeone then it will be a nationalistic grudge between Argentina and Chile which at many levels is already tension filled enough - without the added pressure of a Champions League semi-final to play. The advantage on this occasion being that Atletico know their way to a final, having done so two seasons ago. But for Manchester it would be a new journey. Yet one they seem to be adapting to very easily it would seem thus far this season.

Zinedine Zidane like Guardiola has won a Champions League medal as a player. But has yet to add the title to his managerial resume to equal the Catalan player's achievement. The Frenchman winning his title at Hampden Park against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 and Guardiola winning his at Wembley when Johan Cruyff was his Barcelona manager a decade earlier. Also in that Barca team was Txiki Beguiristain, Director of Football at Manchester City, and the man credited with turning Pep's head towards the Blue side of the city, rather than Old Trafford. 

For Zidane the task is probably the least complicated as his job is already on the line on a weekly basis - according to the Madrid sports dailies. Much as it was after the defeat in the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. With only a mild relief on offer when Real Madrid surprisingly won the Clasico in Camp Nou to edge closer to a chance at La Liga. Faced with that pressure Zidane will have no favoured options given his managerial career was launched prematurely with the firing of Benitez in January.

On Friday in Nyon all these possible encounters will be decided with the likelihood being that City and Bayern will meet. It’s newspaper headline waiting to happen.

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