Spanish inquisition after Real and Barca fail Champions League test
Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two favourites in the Champions League semi-finals, were unexpectedly dumped out of the competition in midweek, signalling a surprising Spanish failure.
If somebody had told us a couple of weeks ago that the Champions League final was going to be Bayern Munich versus Chelsea, most of us outside of Munich and Stamford Bridge would have laughed.
But, who’s laughing now? That mad man, the man with no idea about the big game, is the believer, the man who knows that in football the best teams do not always win.
Football is amazing for these kind of events. It’s not an easy thing to digest for the Madrid and Barca faithful, who were almost buying the flights and the match tickets for Munich, aiming to enjoy what many football fans were predicting would be the best Champions League final ever played.
The only thing that they have been left with is a shocking dose of disappointment and resignation, and more savings for their summer holidays. And, in Barca's case, the departure of their super-successful manager.
The two Spanish giants were been beaten by two supposed underdogs. That tag is unquestionable based if on the player-by-player assessments of the four teams that reached the CL semi-finals.
The main problem for the Spanish clubs - and the key of both semi-finals - is that both Chelsea and Bayern Munich used their virtues better than their rivals did.
Chelsea and Bayern tried to maximise the sum total of their strengths. Barca were the big favourites against Chelsea, especially with a 2-0 lead on the night and the Blues down to 10 men. The tie was theirs for the taking. They only needed to be patient, based on their ball possession, to dismantle their opposition.
Chelsea’s strategy, especially after John Terry's red card, was an ultra defensive one, with the nine outfield players assembled rigidly in their own half and ready to hit Pep Guardiola’s men with sporadic counter-attacks when given the opportunity.
The result was that Barcelona’s possession play became futile against the Blues' defensive spider web, that had been the case in the first leg and was much more apparent in the second leg with Barca having a man advantage.
Roberto Di Matteo’s side showed what can be achieved against the best - their strategy was highly effective as counter-attacks produced three golden goals over the two legs.
Barca’s 70% average of ball possession in both games failed to produce an overflow of goal chances. This, added to two bad days at the office for Barca's Messiah Lionel Messi, with a missed penalty included, condemned the Azulgranas to their semi-final exit.
The two legs also demonstrated that the Catalan team is now, more than ever, Messi dependent. His magic wasn't enough to inspire progression to the final.
If something characterises Real Madrid best, it is their severity of attacking power. Their numbers in La Liga highlight that, with 109 goals in 34 games, a new record of scoring in the competition.
However, Jose Mourinho’s team didn’t show their habitual ease to find the opposition net in the first leg against Bayern. And two goals in the Santiago Bernabeu were not enough, as Madrid's defensive system was broken several times during the match. Bayern achieved an away goal that gave the Germans a crucial boost.
They penalty shoot out punished Madrid’s impotence during the two legs and extra-time, and they were undone by misses from Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Sergio Ramos.
Iker Casillas did the best he could to rescue Madrid with two penalties but ultimately it was his team-mates mistakes' that ended the merengues' hopes of a 10th Champions League title.
Real Madrid and Bayern are teams with a similar style of play, based on fast attacks and superb counter-punch success.
Chelsea and Bayern were superior in the battle of styles. Their play is less attractive but was effective to reach the May 19 final. Football is all about doing what it takes to win.
So, there you have it. An unexpected Spanish Champions League failure. And, by the way, if you see that mad man, the one you laughed at, don’t forget that you owe him an apology. He is what football is all about.
By Ivan Molina - Follow me on Twitter: @IvanMolinaC
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