So it’s official: we’ve got an El Derbi madrileno to look forward to. I can hardly wait.
Both teams from Madrid bulldozed their way past their opponents on Tuesday and Wednesday night to set up a mouthwatering clash in Lisbon on Saturday 24 May. What perhaps surprised most fans was the one-sided nature of both Champions League semi-finals.
First of all: Bayern Munich versus Real Madrid. Most people had Bayern down as favourites given that they were only a goal behind and playing at home, but the reality is that Guardiola’s side never even got close to causing Madrid genuine problems. Whilst many have written about the scintillating attacking exploits of the Madrid front five, it should not be forgotten that for all the eulogising about Guardiola, this would never have happened under Jupp Heynckes.
Bayern may have had the Bundesliga wrapped up for a few weeks now, but their humiliation in their own backyard on Tuesday confirmed what their underwhelming quarter final had suggested: Guardiola has taken Bayern’s European performances backwards. The tiki-taka football favoured by the Spaniard has been a great success in Germany, but the reality is that when it has been applied to the Champions League, it has been far less successful.
The fact of the matter is that Guardiola has taken over the best team in Europe and made them less threatening. His teams may record ridiculously high possession stats, but the old adage rings as true as ever: the only stat that matters is the score. Guardiola’s obsession with what he regards as beautiful football has allowed Bayern to deteriorate.
What will be interesting to see is where Bayern go from here. Their power in the Bundesliga is unlikely to diminish, but it might be that they may have to change their approach if they want to be successful in Europe. Football is evolving once again, and the pacy, powerful teams are the ones in control now. If Bayern want to stay as one of Europe’s top sides, they will need to evolve too.
If they need a few pointers on the kind of football that gets results, they need only look at their most recent conquerors. Real Madrid were simply fantastic at the Allianz Arena, and must surely be odds-on favourites to lift their tenth European Cup. The triumvirate threat of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema was simply too much for Bayern to cope with, and it will take an exceptional defensive display from Atlético to keep them at bay in the final.
Over in the other semi-final, the superlatives that have been whirling around Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side were swiftly evaporated as they were failed to overcome Atlético in their own backyard.
For the majority of the first half it seemed like the Mourinho masterplan was going to work once again. As against Liverpool, Mourinho’s side clinched a first-half goal and as against Liverpool, they essentially ‘parked the bus’, frustrating Atlético with most players behind the ball.
The trouble with the standard Mourinho tactic is that it relies on zero mistakes from his players, and as most football fans know, this is too tall an order to work time and time again.
After conceding shortly before halftime, Chelsea suddenly found themselves staring down the barrel of an ‘away goals’ exit and had no choice but to attack the Madrid goal in the hope of clinching a crucial winner. This inevitably left space at the back, and Atlético were ruthless in exploiting that space on the counter.
Ultimately, Mourinho has paid for his defensive approach.
His side made no effort to get a goal away in Madrid, and ultimately this was their undoing. Rather than returning to London for the second leg with an advantage, they returned knowing that if Atlético scored just once, two of their own would be required. A fantastically well-organised side Chelsea may be, but they are not a side who can score a lot of goals against the best sides, and with that in mind, it would have been perhaps more sensible for Mourinho to try and gain an advantage in Madrid.
As it is, his negativity has cost his side dearly, and this loss at home to Atlético most probably will result in a trophyless season at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho will be hoping that Roman Abramovic is more lenient on him than he has been on previous Chelsea managers.
Let us not forget Atlético, though. They were phenomenal, and a Champions League final caps what has been a truly remarkable season for Madrid’s second club. With a genuine chance of lifting both the Champions League and La Liga, this has been one of the most amazing success stories of the modern footballing era.
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