Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DREAMS

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BAYERN MUNICH

In what could be known as the biggest upset in the recent memory of Bayern is their loss to Chelsea in last year’s Champions’ League Final and to pile on the misery they managed lose a penalty shootout to Chelsea in their own home, the Allianz Arena. This year they look to conquer the same tournament they were agonizingly close to winning last year and the key word of motivation to win this year is ‘Redemption’. And as luck would have it, the greatest case of irony would be the fact that this year Wembley beckons the Bavarians.

Bayern Munich have already wrapped up the domestic season in record time. In Europe this season, they boast an amazing home form with nothing but victories and only one loss away from home to BATE. With Thomas Muller looking to be in red hot form in the tournament and their world famous wings made up of the Dutch-French connection Robben and Ribery, the Bavarians are nowhere near being short of talent. Mario Gomez may not be scoring but up stepped Mandžukić. With Manuel Neuer between the goal posts, opponents can expect nothing but fortitude when trying to score past this guy and Martinez will continue anchoring the midfield. Anyone’s best bet will be on Bayern to go on to lift the trophy, no matter which opposition they come across. There is certainly no denying that with this being Jupp Heynckes last season he’d love to finish it off with a team that is crowned the European Champions while adding their FIFTH Champions’ League title to the already impressive trophy cabinet.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND

The latter stages of the CL always throws in a few dark-horses ripping up the script for the big guns. Dortmund are not it. To call them a dark-horse would be doing them a disfavour. They have been nothing short of stellar in their run to the semi-finals. Having met, and defeated, Madrid already in the group stages, they’ve certainly got the beating of them. It’s amazing to think how far Klopp’sarmy have come in a few years but the task at hand is not one for the fresh-faced and weak of heart. It’s the gritty finale where teams have to get down and dirty and it’s where experience shows. But are Dortmund capable of going all the way? The answer is a resounding yes. They’ve shown in their victory against Malaga that they don’t shy away from long-ball tactics when it’s needed and when it’s not, trust them to turn on the style with the trident of Gotze-Reus-Lewandowski wreaking havoc. Pretty Barcelona-esque football, but with the reassuring figures of Hummels and Subotic at the back. Having Sahin back did them no harm, either. This is the time of the year when games come at you thick and fast and Dortmund have the luxury of resting players and keeping them fit, having lost the league already. In Klopp, they have a manager not afraid to stick his neck out there and that’s exactly what’s needed: a bit of tactical daring. Expect the home fans to leave the Madridistas quaking in their boots because Ole’ Big Ears beckons the boys in yellow. Echte Liebe Dortmund!

REAL MADRID

It’s been a topsy-turvy season at the heart of the Spanish capital. There’s been no shortage of drama on and off the field but what else do you expect from a Mourinho team? His grip on the spotlight is unnerving. Los Blancos have battled through into the semis, scraping past United and then almost disposing of Galatasaray with some unease. But this is the big stage and when you have two headline-grabbers in the same team, you expect nothing but joy at Wembley, where both Ronaldo and Jose will be desperate to win.

Star forward Cristiano Ronaldo leads the scoring charts with 11 Champions League goals, and Los Blancos will turn to the talismanic winger for inspiration in the upcoming ties, especially with the trio of Benzema, Higuain and Callejon failing to hit the heights of last season. In a season that has seen the side’s fortune rise and fall with an alarming frequency, the return of the talismanic Casillas, with those of Pepe, Marcelo and Higuain, and the rise of Varane and Morata, would leave fans with renewed hope for a season which had once seemed destined for failure. For all their obvious merits, Madrid have indeed struggled to break down teams that systematically sit back and absorb pressure, and prefer to attack through breathtaking counters. As such, battling the defensive solidity of Bavarian giants, should they progress, remains a daunting prospect for further rounds. However, Mourinho, in perhaps in final year as the head of the White House, would look to unite the dressing room and use the considerable depth in the squad to avenge the defeats of 2012 and 2003. A little tactical nous and a bit of luck would allow a team, that once seemed divided, to dispose of the pesky yellow Germans and reclaim their trophy. With Modric, Di Maria and Khedira stepping into gear in the business part of the season, and Ronaldo having an incredible 2013 so far, there is little that can be said against the Special One’s chances of winning the crown for an unprecedented 3rd time.

BARCELONA

In recent years, we’ve seen Barcelona display a hunger for cups much like an assassin’s cold thirst for blood; from Pep’s management regime to Tito’s, Barcelona has been clinical in attaining what they want and they have faced failures with the mindset of overcoming them with finesse instead of succumbing underneath it. After the shocking defeat to AC Milan at San Siro, Barcelona’s confidence had been shaky as proved by their worst run of form in 5 years. A lot of people instantly ruled out Barcelona. They had their reasons with the duo of Pique and Mascherano looking rather weak. Their  critical weakness being over the top balls played behind the high defensive line. Dani Alves on the other hand isn’t having his best run of luck recently with his crosses being below par and him struggling in the right-wingback role quite unlike the dominance he’s shown in the past. . People still didn’t stop there, they continued to doubt Tito due to his lack of experience in dealing with the pressure of the Champions League but the likes of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Pique are not players who will sit back and accept the course of fate. But the PSG matches highlighted everything that’s right with the team- Lionel Messi. It’s a case of ‘we’ll just score more than you’ They are used to trophies every season in and out, it’s customary for them to be the top contenders for everything. Which leaves us with the question: Will Barcelona be able to push through and continue their form with the turn of events they produced in the second leg? The odds are with Barcelona as they proved why the CL  victors of the past 5 seasons have all went on to win the cup after defeating Barcelona. Tito Vilanova has shown his bravery this season at Barca by switching around the star-studden line-up with youngsters from La Masia and if anyone can grab the whole team by the scruff of the neck and guide them towards success, it’s him and more importantly—we have seen the team learn from its mistakes and get even deadlier. This, yet again, is their year.