[ In relation to this article also, check out the follow up article – Who will Win the Champions League? ]
Nobody in their wildest dreams would have imagined that it would be Chelsea, not Bayern Munich that would be climbing the steps of the Allianz Arena to accept the Champions League trophy from Michel Platini. The events that had just been witnessed signalled the culmination of a dream run by the London club. As such, it was a surprise.
That surprise however will not be relived in this season’s competition.
For as the quarter finals first legs came to an end this week, everything had gone according to plan. The expected had occurred. There will be no surprises this time round.
The nature of the Champions League manifested itself. This is, after all, a cup competition. But not just any competition – a contest in which the victor is ordinarily one with seasoned experience and know how.
That is why it was no surprise to see Real Madrid and Bayern Munich dominate their opponents in such fashion. These two teams comprise individuals who in recent years have reached and painfully faltered at the heights of the Champions League latter stages.
Therefore, it was the two time semi finalist Real Madrid that so decimated Galatasaray. In the same light, a Juventus that was experiencing a quarter final for the first time in a long time were shown how it is done by the same Bayern Munich that so painfully lost the Champions League final on home soil just last year.
This was a sign that despite the presence of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, or Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, a significant part of winning the Champions League depends on the collective experience of the team as a whole. Lack of such Champions League experience in the personell of Galatasaray and Juventus led to the punishment exerted on them by Madrid and Bayern – two teams which contained such experience in plenty.
As such, this explains why the competition lost the likes of Manchester City and Zenit St. Petersburg early on.
This however did not seem to taint PSG’s resolve. Despite the big names, this team has not endured a harrowing Champions League run as a collective. That was mitigated by the fact that in Carlo Ancelotti, they had a manager with a vast experience in this competition.
That meant that he was able to make the right decisions at the right time – such as starting with the experienced David Beckham and when to substitute him with the learning Marco Veratti. This ability put PSG at an advantage that neither Antonio Conte nor Fatih Terim has.
But, the fact that a home tie ended 2-2 is testament to just how invaluable the collective is required. Far the better team, PSG should have taken their numerous chances. Failure to do so saw Barcelona fully capitalise on theirs – Lionel Messi with only one of only two of his shots on target, and Xavi’s penalty. This again proved just what Barcelona themselves had exerted in the last round. In this competition, when you do not take your chances, you will be punished – as M’Baye Niang and AC Milan will testify.
So, that means that with the tie going back to the Camp Nou, Barcelona will fully maximise and will go through – even if it will be with or without Messi. Bayern on the other hand will hold out in Turin, and Madrid’s visit to hell will for once be an enjoyable one. The second legs will all be about procession and celebration for Barca, Bayern and Madrid and come semi final draw day, you can fully expect their names in those pots.
That now brings us to Borussia Dortmund v Malaga.
Again, these two teams suffered from being collectively inexperienced. Dortmund’s Champions League campaign last season was not a memorable one, while Malaga is enduring their first. Both have been on fairy tale runs, but this is ultimately the end of the Champions League road for both the eventual winner and the eventual loser of this tie.
That the tie is drawn 0-0 points to their deficiencies. Dortmund were clearly the better side, but failed to convert their chances. Thus, if one of these sides were to meet one of Barca, Madrid or Bayern, they would be punished. Dortmund for failing to take their chances, Malaga for allowing the opposition to create so many.
Wonderful as it may be to see one of them going through, none of these teams will make a significant impact later on this competition.
But, who it will be remains a conundrum. Borussia Dortmund still have the upper hand, but this seems the sort of match that will be determined by a factor unforeseen – a silly booking, an individual error, a wrong tactical switch or a refereeing decision. Therefore, the first goal in this tie will be hugely important. As will be both sides reaction to it.
Overall, the winner of the Champions League will be drawn from either Barca, Madrid or Bayern, and the fourth team in the semi-final will only exist to make one of their paths to the final that much easier.
However, a surprise may still be in the offing and the fact that it is not foreseeable is just why it will be termed a surprise if it does occur. That however will be of minimalized value and not in the same manner as Chelsea had it last term.
In last season’s semi-final, it was only they who were not involved in a league title run. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich were still trying to win the League in their respective countries and this meant that they had energies being diverted elsewhere.
The dynamics of this season’s European domestic leagues mean that by the time the semis come along, Barca and Bayern will have wrapped up their Leagues and Real Madrid will be sure they will not be able to claim it. That will mean that full concentration will turn to the Champions League – thus negating any advantage that either Ddortmund or Malaga would have had (the advantage that Chelsea had last year).
However, cup competitions retain an element of luck. As such, Dortmund and Malaga find themselves in this position because the luck of the draw in the last round placed giants alongside each other (Real Madrid v Manchester United, Barcelona v Milan,) while putting Malaga against Porto, and Dortmund against Shakthar Donetsk. Earlier on, it had placed Manchester City in a most exacting group in the group stages.
Furthermore, PSG’s last minute equaliser was just the sign of how much luck can affect the overall outcome. In those moments, you need the ball to deflect off a defender and wrong foot the goalkeeper. Also, as last season showed, sometimes, Messi can miss a penalty, Cesc Fabregas can hit the crossbar and Pedro can hit the upright all in one tie. That Didier Drigba can score with his team’s only shot on target and that a disinterested Fernando Torres can be put clear through on goal with a clearance destined for the stands.
Ultimately, the only way any of PSG, Juventus, Dortmund, Galatasaray or Malaga will have a chance at this season’s Champions League will be through a stroke of good fortune. Chelsea showed that it is possible.
For now however, the probabilities of deciphering just who will win the Champions League point to a much clearer picture. The obvious is that this is the most prestigious of European cup competitions. Logically, it is the elite that will have the best opportunity of claiming the crown.
Of those remaining, only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich tick all boxes. Whether they will tick the decisive box is a matter to which only time will tell.
[ The follow up article – Who will Win the Champions League – can be found here ]
*** All images courtesy of zimbio.com ***