Tactics win again as Spaniards vanquished
APRIL 27 — Two great semi-final second-leg matches in the UEFA Champions League; two matches in which the fresher teams prevailed; and some of the worst penalty taking we have ever seen from a few of the best players in the world.
I think that about sums it up.
Yes folks, there will be no Spanish Clasico in Munich come May 20 but in its place, we will likely witness the ultra-defensive tactics of England’s Chelsea and the enterprising play of Bayern Munich of Germany. Expect many variations of the “one world cup, two world wars” jibe coming from Der Englanders closer to the final date.
But I digress, so, back to the matches … in the first of those two memorable second-leg matches, the defensive tactics of Chelsea came straight out of the Greece handbook of Euro2004. Yes, you can win matches and even tournaments playing dull, defensive and boring football.
However, pulling it off is not as easy as you think. The feat still requires mountains of concentration and a massive amount of defensive discipline. And there is no doubt that such a feat, and the tactics built around it, also requires loads of experienced players.
I feel, quite perhaps, this is the main factor that helped Chelsea the most as they would have otherwise floundered if asked to play more offensively.
The resting of players from domestic commitments helped too when they went a man down.
We will not discuss the depths of stupidity that caused Chelsea skipper John Terry to get himself sent off. He will have enough time to think of the foolishness of his actions as he sits on the stands at the Allianz Arena on May 20.
But of course, it was not all Chelsea’s doing when it came down to the all-important second 45 minutes of action at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
Their fate was also very much due to Barcelona’s undoing in the last few minutes of the first half and the rest of the match thereafter, in particular for Fernando Torres’ priceless game-set-match goal for the Blues in added time.
The Catalan giants played as if they had crabs for their pre-match meal. They may have got their desired two-goal advantage (though losing it moments later), but it still gave no excuse to overplay the ball over and over again.
I have never seen a team play so many square passes ever before in my life! Their wingers never went outside their fullbacks.
And poor Lionel Messi looked a physically shattered kid. All the accolades in the world, all the mesmerising moves, all the beautifully crafted goals … and his whole season will ultimately boil down to a missed penalty kick. What a season to forget for him.
The next day, at the Santiago Bernabeu, Bayern Munich looked fresher and sharper after resting eight players from their domestic league clash against Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Although Real Madrid played hard, they lacked cohesion and got easily frustrated with too many individuals trying to do too much. Step forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
Again, a two-goal lead squandered — although, the penalty decision for Bayern’s goal was questionable — and the match went all the way to extra-time.
The German side remained the fresher side the longer the match progressed, and this, unfortunately for the Spaniards, also showed in the penalty shoot-out.
The substandard penalty taking was a shock as the more experienced players stumbled.
When young David Alaba stepped forward to score from Bayern’s first in the shootout, one was forgiven for thinking the older and more experienced players would do better. But that was not the case as Ronaldo, Kaka and even Bayern captain Philip Lahm all failed to hold their nerve.
Much of the credit for the two consecutive penalty misses by either side must go to the goalkeepers though, as both Manuel Neuer for Bayern and Real’s Iker Casillas did well.
However, that could also be more due to the penalties being “telegraphed” rather than “emailed”. (Now, I am wondering how many readers are old enough to even get the comparison … but basically, that’s how slow I thought those saved penalties were).
So, on to the final in Munich and Bayern Munich will obviously be favourites, what with their home-ground advantage … but don’t be surprised to see Chelsea cause an upset.
The fallen giants from Spain will surely look back at their duel for domestic honours as having taken away all their energy.
Having the gruelling Clasico right in the middle, between two key matches of the Champions League semi-final, was not so clever and did a major disservice to Spanish football fans.
But such is the nature of football and questions will be asked about the true capabilities of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
However, I think it was simply a case of being in the right place at the wrong time.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.