Destiny calling for Clasico duo despite setback
APRIL 20 — The outcome of the first leg of semi-finals in the UEFA Champions League this week seems to have given the edge to the two teams which await the return leg at their respective home grounds next week.
Even though the results, as they stand, favour Bayern Munich and Chelsea, however, travelling to Spain will be a challenge at a different level of intensity.
At the Allianz Arena, Bayern proved to be very dynamic in their game plan and also succeeded in controlling most of the match against Real Madrid, with their domination in midfield — particularly in terms of their performance down both flanks.
The trio of Luis Gustavo, Bastien Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos gave a complete performance in midfield, while the dribbling and acceleration of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery opened up lots of space going forward.
In attack too, Mario Gomez was full of energy and made some crucial breakthroughs that caused some confusion in the Real defence.
As much as it is great to have the lead but just the one-goal advantage is not enough for Bayern to take to the Santiago Bernabeu. Furthermore, Real have a crucial away goal.
The Spanish giants should be satisfied that they were even able to score that one goal without really demonstrating their true potential.
Karim Benzema’s performance was very encouraging. I also think that he proved yet again that he is the focal point of the Madrid attack. He should be given a more important role in the return leg next week against Bayern’s defence, forcing the visitors to concentrate in the centre of defence, thus opening up the flanks for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria to exploit.
The second leg is very important for Ronaldo because his performance in Munich was very flat, to say the least. He is very much expected to step up his game in Madrid, like he has been known to do most times this season.
Meanwhile, at the Camp Nou, in the city of Barcelona, the home side will once again face a tough battle to break down Chelsea’s fortress at the back.
Even though the defending champions failed in all of 90-plus minutes to do that on Wednesday night in London, the remaining 90-plus minutes of this tie should create enough opportunities for Barca to progress through to the Champions League final.
Chelsea was able to suppress Barcelona at Stamford Bridge with a defensive masterclass show from the likes of John Terry, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole, in particular.
The same tactics should be applied by Roberto Di Matteo in the second leg. However, the width of the pitch at Camp Nou might inevitably force Chelsea to give their opponents more room.
And that is all these Spanish maestros need to open up the Blues and use their wingers to play a more natural and effective game to their advantage. At the Bridge, the pitch is too narrow and therefore, much easier to cover and control from a defensive standpoint.
Like most of you, I am eagerly anticipating two more pulsating and classic encounters in this year’s Champions League semi-finals.
It is obvious, however, that the upper hand lies with both clubs that come from the land of the current world champion nation, Spain.
The irony of these semi-final second-leg ties taking place in Spain next week is that they come just a few days after both Spanish giants clash in the fourth El Clasico this season — not including the two pre-season Spanish Super Cup ties.
Barcelona will be hosting Real Madrid in their return Primera Liga game at the Camp Nou tomorrow night (2am, Malaysian time, Sunday morning). The four-point lead at the top of the table for Real means that the pressure is on Barcelona, as any slip-up will surely take the Spanish league championship to Madrid.
So, it is significant to note that the Spanish league title could already be decided by the time the Champions League semi-finals second-leg comes around.
Both these teams have the ability to face their domestic challenges and in Europe with the depth of squad that they possess, not to mention the calibre of their players in their starting line-up as well as on the bench.
It would also not be expected of either of these two clubs to be placing any special priority on a particular trophy, be it the Spanish title or the European one.
Meanwhile, back in London, at The Emirates, Chelsea visit their early-season conquerors.
It will be a tough challenge for the Blues at the hands of The Gunners, with both clubs still chasing the final two Champions League spots for next season. Nothing is certain yet, even with four or five matches remaining.
It would not be surprising to see Chelsea make a few changes to conserve energy in view of their trip to Barcelona on Tuesday.
As we all know too well, Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is desperate to win in Europe’s (and the world’s) biggest club competition.
It would also likely be the proverbial last bite at the cherry for most of the senior members of the Chelsea squad prior to the inevitable major overhaul at Stamford Bridge this summer.
In Germany, Bayern have already conceded defeat in the Bundesliga and their visit to Werder Bremen is going to be less of a priority than the trip to Madrid, since the second spot is mostly secure too.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.