Tuesday, April 27, 2010

 

The Road to Madrid

It's hard to imagine a better mise-en-scène for the respective second legs of the Champions League semi-finals. Barca requiring at least two goals without reply against a resolute Inter, and Bayern Munich, the masters of the away goal, defending a lone-goal victory in Lyon.

For the latter tie, Bayern must be the favourites, even without Franck Ribery. As for the other...it's too close to call.

It is another tribute to Inter's determination under Jose Mourinho that they didn't fall to pieces after an early goal against the run of play, scored when they were exposed badly on the right. Instead, they gradually and patiently gained control of the game, and ran out deserved 3-1 winners.

It was significant that Lionel Messi, who seemed not entirely certain of his role, was only once left one-on-one with his putative opposite number, the venerable Javier Zanetti. There was usually an Inter midfielder shielding Zanetti from single combat with his compatriot, and in fact the Inter captain often slid into a virtual third centre-back role, to shadow Messi's drifts into the middle. The resultant space on the right was not properly expoited by Barca; Dani Alves's crossing, not for the first time this season, was poor.

At the other end, Wesley Sneijder has received some deserved plaudits, but don't forget Diego Milito, who was involved in all three goals. The hard-working Argentinian might not receive the gushing reviews that some of his colleagues regularly attract, but he has shown himself to be one of the most reliable and dangerous strikers in Europe over the last few seasons - another South American late bloomer, along with the likes of Lucho Gonzalez and Lisandro Lopez. Proof that you haven't quite missed the boat if you're not a European star by 21.

The other semi was a rousing affair, even if only one goal was scored. Just when the tide seemed to be turning (even before Franck Ribery's dismissal), Lyon somehow froze, allowing the reinforced Bayern midfield to blossom, and Arjen Robben to dictate matters in his usual imperious style. When it was back to 10 v. 10, it seemed only a matter of time, but it took another brilliant strike from Robben to make Bayern's pressure pay.

Louis van Gaal's substitution of Robben towards the end was quite inexplicable. Bayern seemed in a menacing groove, and a second before the full-time whistle seemed more than likely. Instead, Robben went off, Lyon assumed the initiative, and the Germans were in fact lucky to reach the end with a clean sheet.

It should be enough to get them through in France, however. Lyon's defence has been admirable of late - Cris, the Brazilian centre-back, was magnificent in the quarter-final against Bordeaux - but there should be enough firepower in the Bayern ranks, even without Ribery, for a goal at the Stade Gerland. Thomas Muller looked surprisingly effective operating on the left in the second half in Munich, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the youngster starting there in Ribery's place in the second leg.

Comments:
Great players perform even better under the right manager, Jose Mourinho will be the greatest manager of all time, sit back and enjoy history in the making.
 
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