The Calm Before the Storm *Semi-Final Preview*By: Marco | April 18th, 2010
Back to Business in Europe’s premier club football tournament.
This coming week promises to be one of the most exciting and ‘fresh’ Champions League Semi Finals in quite some time. For starters it’s the first time since Milan hoisted the cup against Juventus that a squad from England has not featured in a Champions League Semi Final. Secondly, this is the first time since the 2003-04 CL that a team from France as had such a shot at Champions League glory. You’ll remember that year it was AS Monaco who beat the odds and made it to the finals only to be defeated by eventual champions FC Porto at Gelsenkirchen.
These semi-finals, regardless of the outcome, do mark the return to European prominence for Bayern Munich, Olympique Lyonnais and Internazionale. The three teams have defied all odds to make it this deep in the competition. Before either of them can lift the Cup at the Bernabéu in May, they’ll likely have to go up against the awesome powers of reigning champions – Barcelona.
Inter v Barcelona
Stadium: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
April 20th 2010
This is likely the premiere matchup of the semifinal round. Mourinho v Guardiola. It was apparent during the group stage that the vigor, speed and determination was too much for Mourinho’s stagnant Inter to handle. At the Nou Camp during the group stage, Barcelona, made Inter look – like they have done to most teams – average at best. Inter were slow and unable to rise to the occasion despite the fact they were playing a Messi’less’ Barcelona. Based on recent form however, I can only expect a much closer contest. While Inter have looked to be on poor form in Serie A, their Champions League demeanor exudes confidence and they have looked every bit like potential threats to the Barcelona crown.
Barcelona on the other hand, can be summed up with the maniacal assault they – through the magic of one Lionel Messi – laid on Arsenal in the second leg of their Quarterfinal draw. The 5 ft 7 in striker used his low centre of gravity to his advantage as he weaved in and out of the flat footed Arsenal defence, much like a tailor on steroids, pummeling the Gunners with goal after goal.
Here I’ve included the merciless Pedro Goal from the 2-0 Barcelona victory during the group stage. You can see, how Barcelona, unlike Chelsea was able to spread the Inter defence apart through the speed and movement of the ball. I can say with certainty, Inter will not allow such a free flowing form of football to take place on this occasion. They’ll likely clamp down, like they did against Chelsea and CSKA Moscow. Whether that is enough remains to break the Barcelona cycle remains to be seen.
Regardless of what the empirical evidence has proven to us thus far, I do expect this draw to be much closer then what some pundits have been saying. Inter have gained some swagger since defeating Chelsea at home and abroad and that mojo should be expected to carry over to this round. I reckon that Mourinho should resort to the young ‘Super’ Mario Balotelli during this draw. His size, ability on the ball, speed and skill will help Inter close the technical gap to Barcelona. His presence should come in the place of Pandev.
One thing is certain, this is the Semifinal tie to watch.
Players to Watch:
Barcelona: Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Carles Puyol
Internazionale: Samuel Eto’o, Lucio, Mario Balotelli
Prediction: This draw will depend entirely on Jose Mourinho. I don’t think a Balotelli’less’ Inter will be able to compete with the rhythm of Guardiola’s Barcelona. However, if you inject the 19 year old into the line up from the start of the match things can turn around quickly. I believe this draw will end with Penalty kicks following extra time at the Nou Camp.
Bayern Munich v Olympique Lyonnais
Venue:Fußball Arena München, Munich
21 April 2010
Warning: ‘objects in mirror my be deceiving’ – perhaps this is the slogan that best defines the Champions League run Lyon is currently on, albeit, this probably comes as little of a surprise for the followers of Ligue 1. Lyon has dominated the French league attaining 7 consecutive championships since 2001-2002 season. It would only be a matter of time that this dominant French team would make an impact on the continental stage. 2010 has brought about that challenge.
Lyon began the Round of 16 as serious underdogs against a far more offensively potent Real Madrid. It was through sheer determination, defensive organization and grit that Lyon was able to hold off Madrid and carry forward to the next round where they faced French rivals Bordeaux, a team that won their group stage against Bayern Munich and a struggling Juventus. Despite beating Lyon in the second leg, it was the 3-1 Lyon victory in the first leg of the Quarter Final that saw the French outfit through.
Bayern Munich’s arrival to the Semi Finals has been marred with some interesting scenarios along the way. Beginning in the Round of 16 where they faced a very potent threat in Prandelli’s Fiorentina. While the first leg was marred in controversy – I still maintain that Fiorentina was robbed in this round – the second leg Bayern was ultimately defeated in Florence, however, due to the fact that Bayern scored a single goal more than Fiorentina away from home, Bayern slid through on aggregate.
In the Quarter finals they would go up against Manchester United. The English titans, would fail in the first leg at Munich, but in the second leg they managed to defeat Bayern… However, the German’s were again able to slide through to the Semi’s on aggregate. Coincidently in both the Round of 16 and the Quarters, Bayern Munich looked the weaker of the sides, yet they’ve managed to do enough to continue their progression to Madrid in May. Can history repeat itself again?
Let’s look at this tie a little analytically for a second. Bayern has conceded 13 goals in this tournament. Out of the 13 goals, 8 were conceded in the last four games to Manchester United and Fiorentina respectively. In the meantime, Lyon has managed to score 17 goals in this tournament, not a small feet by any means. Those goals came against the likes of Real Madrid, Bordeaux, Fiorentina, Liverpool and Debrecen, aside from the latter this list of teams isn’t anything to laugh about.
When you compare the make up of Bayern Munich, you can’t help but draw parallels to Real Madrid. They carry a swift, potent attack, but their back line seems suspect. Arjen Robben, Ribery and Ivica Olić have been consistent enough to see them through some close calls along the way. But has the German team’s luck run out? Lyon’s stingy defence by comparison has only conceded 6 goals in this tournament by comparison. While in Ligue 1, they’ve been beaten a very respectable 35 times, while scoring a third best 54 goals. In the Bundesliga, Munich have conceded only 28 times (a league best) and have scored 65 times this season. While the margin in league competitions favours Bayern – in the Champions League it’s been a different story.
Players to Watch:
Bayern Munich: Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben, Ivica Olić
Olympique Lyonnais: Sidney Govou, Jérémy Toulalan, Hugo Lloris and Lisandro Lopez
Prediction: If Bayern can exert themselves in attack and break down the stingy Lyon defence then they’ll have half a chance at advancing. The second half of the opportunity will lie at the feet of their defence, clumsy plays have affected them at various points in the previous rounds. Lyon, have already beaten Madrid and disposed of a team that caused a difficult ride for Munich – Bordeaux. Look to Puel’s men to hold tough against the speedy Germans. 3-2 Lyons