Friday’s quarter-final draw of the remaining eight teams in the UEFA Champions League was an intriguing one, in that there was a stark possibility of Wembley hosting either an all-Spanish final between Barcelona and Real Madrid, or an all-German final between Borussia Dortmund. Both countries’ representatives have title challengers too far off the pace to reclaim the league title – despite not a mathematical formality yet – but now turn to their European campaigns for end-of-season honours. Mourinho’s men host Galatasaray at the Bernabéu, Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund feat. Marco Reus and Mario Götze hold the traveller’s advantage to Málaga’s La Rosaleda. Both legs will be played on either Tuesday or Wednesday in the opening weeks of April.
However the tie I found with the most about itself was Bayern München vs. Juventus. Media eyes will of course be drawn to the newfound riches of the French capital club, Paris Saint-Germain, ushering David Beckham’s return to European competition, against the magnificent Barcelona. Meanwhile two of the continent’s historically strongest sides will do battle at the Allianz in the south of Germany. Arguably this is a battle of pragmatism and efficiency from both sides, so the tactical standpoint of this tie will be of a high standard.
In the previous round Bayern exampled the infrequent naïveté the Champions League’s elite clubs present when there is a sense of the job already being ‘done’. You cannot really expect less from Germany’s tabloid media in such scenarios. Bild’s reaction to the Bavarians’ 3-1 victory in London was of joyous appraisal, “Big Bavaria!” supplemented with a rhetorical question: “Queen, did you see that? The Bavarians are kings of London!” Der Spiegel [The Reflecting] was exactly what their name translates in English, but their views more forwarding-thinking: “Bayern Munich have confidently won at Arsenal and can now plan for the quarter-finals.”
The return leg was hardly a stroll in the park and the atmosphere inside the Allianz after conceding within the first three minutes summarised this well enough, followed by another goal, this time from a set-piece. Despite not being enough to see them through to the next round the Gunners walked away from elimination with heads held high, added with the fact that they became the first team to win at Bayern’s home ground by two goals without reply in the Champions League since its inauguration. It was hardly the German efficiency football has come to standardise from the Bundesliga’s biggest club.
Juventus had a slightly more awkward task as predicted by the British media. Celtic were expected to sit deep, defend with resiliency and light up the Italians on the counter attack. The away side were the heavy favourites however external factors had the potential to tip the tie in the balance of the Scottish outfit – instead it became the opposite. The Bhoys’ high-volume shooting turned into profligacy, their combative nature to affirm to possession statistics in their favour allowed for a more pragmatic opposition to score three away goals. Much like Bayern’s, by individual logic, the tie was practically over.
In the back of people’s minds the group stage matches between the two sides in the early 2000s ending with six different goal scorers and 12 goals overall would amount to a re-energised tie, but at this point il Bianconeri were firmly in the driver’s seat. The second leg in Turin ended in a 2-0 victory for the reigning Serie A champions, leading to their draw of a much tougher opponent, starting away from home.
And if both managers’ post-match comments were not of concern to address complacency then it was a reminder of both sides’ ability to be, or rather should continue to be, pragmatic and efficient throughout their respective Champions League campaigns. Jupp Heynckes the more apprehensive of the two. “We have to look at this game in a critical manner. The early goal for Arsenal was obviously just what they were looking for. We had the better chances, but lacked the clinical finishing and weren’t as calm as we usually are.
“We managed to get off with a slap on our wrists. We still haven’t won anything [major]. This was a timely reminder for us – that we have to continue working hard in order to achieve our goals.” The Bavarians’ only honour this season is the DFL-Supercup, the inaugural German curtain-raiser for league and cup winners prior to the season’s commencement. Lessons are still perhaps to be learned from last season that clubs who have little, if anything, to play for in other competitions are even more threatening. Chelsea exampled that with their fairytale run after being written off and dream final in Bayern’s backyard.
Conte referred to his side’s ‘inexperience’, after the Italian outfit’s hiatus from the continent’s top-level tournament. Failure to qualify from their group (which ironically contained Bayern) led to a run in the UEFA Europa League, defeating Ajax 2-1 on aggregate but falling at the round of 16 to Hodgson’s Fulham away at Craven Cottage. They lost 4-1, another fairytale run from an English club. Coupled with a seventh place league finish, they re-entered the competition in the qualifying rounds, however a draw at home to Manchester City meant that they were eliminated alongside Red Bull Salzburg at the group stage.
Following the match, he Conte said “The team is hungry and we always have to be hungry because we’ve just started eating. We sat at the table last year with the Scudetto, but we’ve just started eating. Now we will wait for the draw to see who we get in the next round. We’ll see, now we have to focus on the league because we are still fighting in Serie A and it is not easy to win in Italy.” Although Juventus have opened up a sizeable lead at the top of the table with less than ten games to go, unlike Chelsea last year or Arsenal, Juventus do have other priorities. Last season’s unbeaten season was largely helped by the fact that they had no European commitments, leading to a fitter and fresher squad against teams who had just battled on other fronts with first-team players.
And his sentiments are true to an extent. At some point in the first leg the lack of experience in the latter stages of the Champions League will affect them, firstly with not enough players with the same experience as two or three others, but more so with the lack of attacking options in the forwards department. The argument for Nicolás Anelka, having just signed from a less than successful stint with Shanghai Shenhua, is marred by the fact that he is not good enough to lead the frontline at 34 – more or less an additional option Matri, Quagliarella, Giovinco, Vučinić and controversial loanee Nicklas Bendtner to say the least. Six options in all, but none of them standouts. The summer will prove key.
On the contrary to lack of experience, Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are likely to formulate enough of an influence that can supplement the team. Buffon has been with the club long enough as both custode della porta and capitano to fill that role. Pirlo may well not be the same instrumentalist as he in the 2005 and 2007 Milan sides under Carlo Ancelotti, however, remains talismanic in the deep-lying role within Juventus’ midfield. Starting and finishing all 180 minutes and further if needed is a huge boost, though unlikely.
As for Die Bayern they must swap their lackadaisicalness for macht and potenz, power and efficiency. Having experienced their first defeat since October coming to Bayer Leverkusen, many will come to expect to see a well-oiled machine for the first leg and the return of Franck Ribéry should he not experience anymore physical setbacks between now and the first week of April. His absence from the Arsenal game was identifiable, although Arjen Robben filled his role with not too many qualms. Thomas Müller could be opted ahead of the Dutch wide man for a midfield attacking trio of said German international, fellow national teammate Toni Kroos and the Frenchman. Mario Gómez leading the line instead of Mario Mandžukić is within even chance.
Javi Martínez is suspended however, and will therefore miss the home leg, leading to a potential starting place for Luiz Gustavo. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk waiting in the wings after the hour. Holger Badstuber’s season-ending injury of course rules him out of all competitions until June or July whilst Jérôme Boateng will also be available, again subject to injuries sustained. The squad’s wealth of available players leads to the belief of more focus attacking out wide to. There is certainly depth in regards to the wide players available with a Thomas Müller who is interchangeable from winger to striker, as well as 34-year-old Claudio Pizarro as a third-choice.
A similar scenario beckons for the Bavarians to that of the Torinese. At this point in the Bundesliga die FCB are the architects of their own downfall, with second place being occupied by Dortmund – 20 points behind. A quarter-final clash with VfL Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal means that Heynckes’ men are fighting on three different fronts from and the end of the season as opposed to Juventus’ two. Unless Bayern suffer a disastrous amount of absentees or rapid dip in form, all three honours can be achieved with the same efficiency and pragmatism as expected.
A tie between these two sides that both share the same traits in each other: both have reputations of achieving optimum results with their expeditious resources, however can become complacent elimination or defeat seems out of reach. Studious coaches and quality players will lead to a strong Champions League tie, the only drawback being that only one of them will make it through at the other’s expense.