All Italian Final- Old Trafford, 2003. All English Final- Moscow, 2008. All German Final- Wembley, 2013. The beautiful thing about football (as I’ve often heard the purists expound) is that domination happens in “cycles”. The fact that the years quoted above are in arithmetic progression certainly seems to illustrate their point.
Italian football was arguably at its zenith early in the millennium culminating with Milan finals in 2005 and 2007. What followed (and maybe slightly overlapped) that was a period of English dominance- marked by back-to-back finals for Manchester United in 2008 and 2009. English teams consistently made the semi-finals in the years that followed. The Spanish tide was then on the rise, buoyed no doubt by the national team’s heroics, and a new brand of football captivated the world- “tiki-taka” colloquially; Barcelona formally.
This season, however, has seen a resurgence of sorts- a resurgence that some were clairvoyant enough to see coming. F.C. Bayern Munchen (called Bayern for brevity hereafter) have made 3 finals in 4 years now and are spearheading a German blitzkrieg on the wave of Spanish domination- Borussia Dortmund well in tow. Is this the beginning of a new cycle, you ask? I dare say that cycle’s already begun.
Let’s not label this as “Bundesliga dethrones La Liga” though- well, you can if you want to but you’d be jumping the proverbial gun. To me, this season represents the victory of football. The four semi-finalists were all touted as potential champions when the tournament began and it’s rare to witness equally matched teams go head-to-head this late in the competition.
I, personally, relished every minute of both ties and count myself lucky to have witnessed football of the very highest standard exhibited at the very highest level. A football lover wouldn’t have wanted more! Well, maybe he would have wanted to see what a fit Lionel Messi could have done to change the dynamic of the Barca-Bayern fixture. Nonetheless, most thirsts were quenched.
And it’s not over yet. The best part, the grand culmination, awaits. The two best teams in this season’s Champions League will face off on the 25th of May for the grandest prize of them all- O wait! I hear the F.A. Cup will be won by then. I guess they’ll have to settle for the second grandest prize of them all.
Bayern and Dortmund know each other very well and the rivalry adds spice to an already rather spiced up bratwurst. It’s an intriguing contrast of styles and, indeed, of motivations. Bayern will be rallying their troops for a treble while BVB will have nothing else to play for. If the anticipation wasn’t already overwhelming, the two play each other in the Bundesliga in a week. So we even get to see a curtain-raiser.
I don’t think there’s anything to glean from that for either team though. Each has enough information on the other and both will likely rest key players. So what can we expect in Wembley? Hopefully a feisty, fiery affair with derby-like intensity and Champions League Final-like footballing mastery.
1. Bastian Schweinsteiger: The master of Bayern Munchen football- one of the best (if not the best) central defensive mid-fielders in the game. It’s simple really. When Bastian controls the play, Bayern play to their potential. He cleans up opposition attacks and shoots off big diagonal passes to Ribery and Robben who are inevitably in yards of space. This then draws out defenders leaving space- either in-between for the likes of Muller and Mandzukic, or on the overlap for Lahm and Alaba.
2. Ribery and Robben defending: Something we’ve not seen too often but we saw in both semi-final legs and we will see in the Final if Bayern win. Alaba is an adventurous, young full-back and when he rampages forward, it leaves plenty of space for the likes of Reus and Blaszczykowski to make runs in behind on the counter. Fortunately, Ribery has had the experience to sit back and cover for Alaba and Robben has also been seen doubling up on wingers with Phillip Lahm. How Heynckes got them to do it he only knows, but it’s worked a treat for the Bavarians.
3. Thomas Muller: Scores goals.
1. Ilkay Gundogan: Borussia Dortmund’s own mid-field maestro. The difference in style with Schweinsteiger is obvious. Gundogan is not as good a passer but he can run with the ball. His dribbling and ability to pick up the ball and draw players towards him creates space for Reus, Gotze and the rest. He’s also excellent in tight spaces- picks up the ball with 3-4 players closing him down sometimes and finds his team-mates nearly always. So like Bastian, he’s excellent at cleaning up opposition attacks. Also got a mean shot on him.
2. Marco Reus: Dortmund’s most gifted footballer. Reus is sharp, quick and most pertinently very direct. He runs at defences and is never afraid to take anybody on. He made Rafael Varane look very ordinary in Germany and that is something arguably no-one else has done this season. Extremely unselfish as illustrated by his assist tally. Very good with both feet.
3. Robert Lewandowski: Scores goals.
Putting myself on the spot then. 2-2 after extra-time. Bayern lose on penalties again and acquire the unenviable record of most finals lost in the Champions League.
Whatever happens though, hoping for a classic.
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