Advertisement

5 talking points from this week's Champions League semi-final action

Our assessment of Bayern’s brilliance, Barca’s brutality and more.

1. Barca miss Guardiola

Pep Guardiola at his final press conference as Barcelona manager (Emilio Morenatti/AP/Press Association Images)

If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s surely apparent now – Barcelona badly miss Pep Guardiola, the man who led them to an astonishing 14 out of a possible 19 trophies during his four seasons at the club.

Critics referred to Barcelona’s performance on Tuesday night against Bayern as being an ‘uncharacteristic’ one, and while it’s true to an extent, the Catalan side have been below-par by their standards for the majority of the season.

Some thought they would have pushed on from their 4-0 defeat of Milan in the last 16, though in fact, they have only receded since then, barely scraping past PSG in the last round.

And on reflection, though the aforementioned performance was impressive, it came against an unexceptional team who are currently struggling to finish high enough in Serie A to even qualify for next year’s Champions League.

So while the players’ technical excellence is still evident, the side lack a tactical nous, as well as the usual vibrant energy they display without the ball – and it is in this latter department especially where they came up conspicuously short the other night, with Bayern winning the vast majority of second balls and ultimately out-fighting Barca.

2. German football could become dominant force

Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, centre, from Poland, applauds the supporters at the end of the Champions League semi-final first leg (Frank Augstein/AP/Press Association Images).

One of the most fascinating statistics emanating from this week’s games is that, in total, 15 German players started in the two Champions League semi-finals.

The majority of these players, of course, ended up on the winning side, signalling that German football is in impeccable health.

What’s even more remarkable is that both Munich and Dortmund have achieved their successes while maintaining an emphasis on accommodating homegrown players in the first team.

Dortmund, in particular, have thrived under a pragmatic model, as Nuri Sahin, Marcel Schmelzer, Mario Götze and Kevin Grosskreutz have come through their ranks, while other players, including their four-goal hero Robert Lewandowski, were bought for relatively small fees, as the club has accrued significant debts in recent years.

So perhaps England and other countries could follow suit, and focus more resources on youth development and less on orchestrating an influx of overly expensive foreign imports.

3. Mourinho’s Madrid have lost their edge

It’s been a frustrating season for Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid (Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images).

One of the abiding images from Jose Mourinho’s time at Chelsea was his tendency to routinely embrace players as they left the field following a positive result.

However, that habit does not seem as prevalent at Madrid nowadays, with reports that several of the squad have fallen out with the Portuguese boss.

And this supposed lack of morale plainly appeared evident in the performance last night, as their flimsy display led to a 4-1 trouncing by Dortmund.

The team certainly didn’t do their utmost to prove they were playing for Mourinho, with barely any evidence of cohesion over the course of the 90 minutes.

Such an arrogant display by the Spanish side will thus only enhance rumours that their coach’s anticipated impending departure has prompted a considerable level of complacency within the squad.

Moreover, it also gives further credence to suspicions that Mourinho is an impact coach, whose motivational skills are enormously beneficial to teams in the short term, but whose confrontational persona ultimately alienates all those around him, thereby bringing diminishing returns in terms of results.

He enjoyed hugely successful starts at both Chelsea and Inter, before results worsened in the former instance, while he left the Italian side in a far from healthy state. And now, those same failings appear to be recurring at Madrid.

4. Bayern become firm favourites to win the Champions League

Bayern Munich players celebrate victory over Barca (Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport).

There is no doubting that Bayern Munich are now strong favourites to lift the Champions League trophy in May.

As impressive as Dortmund were last night, Bayern were even more ruthlessly effective in the manner in which they dispatched Barcelona on Tuesday.

Moreover, their players have the far superior European experience, while there is also the added factor of them wanting to put right their desperate misfortune of losing to Chelsea in last year’s final on penalties, despite outplaying the Londoners for large sections of that game.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

And there is the additional matter of the two sides’ domestic form, with Bayern comfortably beating Dortmund to the league title, while they also knocked Jurgen Klopp’s men out of the German Cup.

Of course, it may seem slightly premature to effectively write off both Barca and Madrid, though it would take one of the greatest comebacks in the sport’s history for either to progress to this year’s final.

5. Credit where it’s due to Dortmund’s fans

Dortmund fans celebrate prior to the Champions League semi-final first leg (Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images)

There have been far too many unsavoury illustrations of the worst excesses of football fans in recent times.

However, last night, one of those all-too-rare heartening examples of supporters’ good behaviour was palpable.

Despite confirmation that Mario Goetze had just completed a move to their fierce rivals, Bayern Munich, the Dortmund fans showed their departing star the utmost level of respect as he took to the field.

Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine fans in England, Italy or Spain being so tolerant in similar circumstances.

And happily for the home fans, Goetze repaid their faith in him with an accomplished display that encompassed an assist for the first goal, which indicated that the significant hype surrounding him is justified.

“It was an incredibly good game from him, I hadn’t expected it, but he delivered it,” added a hugely appreciative Jurgen Klopp.

Tonight we learned… that Mario Götze played in Listowel in 2008>

Lewandowski almost signed for Blackburn – but the volcanic ash cloud intervened>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

Read next:

COMMENTS (4)