Monday, May 03, 2010
Bayern v. the Machine
Inter are the masters of the patient game, holding on to possession without ado, playing effectively without the ball, and gently probing for an opening. Bayern, like their coach's Ajax side of the mid-nineties, play in a more expansive style; the quick release to the wings is a common feature, and every single member of the back four has been known to get forward when the situation demands.
So tight-knit and smooth have Inter been in the latter stages of the Champions' League that they have resembled a ruthless machine. In the second leg against Barcelona, they survived the removal of a vital cog, Thiago Motta, by employing the tactics that other sides have used to blunt Barca at the Nou Camp in recent times: compressing the space between defence and midfield while sitting nice and deep, with the offside trap employed astutely. Manchester United in 2008, and Chelsea in 2009, were successful with such a strategy; Jose Mourinho had done his homework.
Lionel Messi found himself squeezed out of the game, and the absence of Andres Iniesta was felt very keenly. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, too, gave ammunition to those who claim that he is not to be relied upon when the chips are truly down. Barca found themselves unable to adapt to a real football scrap, and even Gerard Pique's eventual goal had a hint of offside.
The result of the tie was surely more than just, too, considering the cynical histrionics (not just from Sergio Busquets, incidentally) that got Motta sent off. My mind went back to the similar dismissal of Monaco's Andreas Zikos after some disgraceful play-acting from Claude Makelele of Chelsea in the 2004 semi-final; again, on that occasion, justice was done, with the French side advancing to the final.
Bayern's progression, of course, was even more convincing. Claude Puel seemed to approach the second leg with surprisingly little ambition, leaving both Bafetimbi Gomis and the talented youngster Miralem Pjanic on the bench. Bayern were thus invited to take the initiative, and they did. On the left flank, Hamit Altintop proved a very capable replacement for Franck Ribery. The dismissal of Cris - probably Lyon's best player in the knockout stage - was a killer blow, but the tie was effectively done and dusted well before the Brazilian made his exit.
I favour Inter slightly in the final. Although Bayern should be better rested after sealing the German title this weekend, Inter's fearsome determination in Europe this season simply seems to brook no failure. Despite keeping a clean sheet, Bayern's defence looked uncertain at times at the Stade Gerland, and Mourinho's men will be all too aware of any gaps that can be exploited after a turnover in the middle third. Nevertheless, another polished Robben show is not out of the question. An intriguing end to what has been one of the more interesting Champions' League seasons of the last ten years.