Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shock and awe!

There will no doubt me many football supporters jumping up and down shouting, "Told you so!" on the 'grave' of FC Barcelona following their 0-4 dismantling in the Allianz Arena last night.

Truth be told it was going to happen at some point, all great teams decline over a period of time and the real skill, as Sir Alex Ferguson has shown repeatedly at Old Trafford over the last hundred years or so, is to recognise and arrest that decline before it becomes terminal. In England we tend to use the phrase 'transition' a lot, usually to paper over the cracks of a club that hasn't been able to replace four or five 'greats' over a short period of time, the key though is to make the transition evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Since their stunning win at Wembley back in May 2011, when Barcelona re-wrote their own legend with an imperious victory over Manchester United, there have been signs that the all conquering style that many of us admired and wished our clubs could play was being nullfied by the better teams in Europe. First Inter, then Chelsea and the Milan showed the away, even Rubin Kazan and Shaktar kept them at bay, whilst Arsenal at home showed that the best form of defence was attack. Sadly for Arsenal, as indeed for most of their opponents, Chelsea excepted, trying to play defensive at the Nou camp was not always an option.

That's not to say that the tika-taka style is dead and buried, after all Spain play that way, despite the presences of three or four interlopers from Real Madrid, but what they do need as teams become more adept at countering it is a plan B. The problem that they have faced is similar to that faced by Arsenal or indeed Tottenham in that they can be out muscled too easily by teams who are simply bigger physically. Bayern Munich are a big side, with the exception of Lahm and Ribery all of their side were bigger than the little guys they matched up against from Spain last night, they are very fit, very disciplined and, with Robben no longer sure of a starting place, free from individual egos ruining the team first ethic.

Barcelona have been short of central defenders of real quality as cover for Carlos Puyol for some time, Sergio Busquets no longer imposes himself on the midfield, Gerard Pique (as I have said before) is too inconsistent at the highest level and Dani Alves prefers the first part part of the description 'attacking full back' more than the latter. Until mid-morning yesterday they were favourites to sign Mario Gotze from Dortmund in 2014 but he has chosen to go to FC Hollywood, ironically as part of Pep's first move to change the style of Bayern, Mats Hummels has said that he would like to move to Barcelona in 2014 and there is also the possibility of David Luiz and Pepe Reina moving from the Premier League to La Liga.

Tito Vilanova, according to reports from Barcelona newspapers, believes that there are three or four quality players in the B team who could be part of the first team squad next year, you would hope that this is the case and that we don't see Barcelona have to play another season with Javier Mascherano in central defence when surely he should be the holding midfield player. There's no doubt that, defence excepted, Barcelona have quality in depth and who knows next season might see the revitalising of both Pedro and David Villa who have both had their poorest seasons in a Barca shirt, and of course they can console themselves with another La Liga title.

As for Bayern they have smashed all sorts of records on their way to this seasons Bundesliga title, most wins, most points, earliest date title won, fewest goals conceded, with a side that has looked hungry from the start of the season, no doubt spurred on by the embarrassment heaped upon them by Dortmund last season and there's no reason to think that they cannot win the Champions League at Wembley in May, whoever their opponents are. As I happened to mention on the BBC Sports pages back in February one of the more familiar sounds at German grounds over the last few years has been the singing of 'Footballs coming home' from the Euro 96 song 'Three Lions' and of course the irony of it being sung at Wembley by a German crowd as their team wins the Champions League would not be lost on a country that, like the Americans, is often thought to be lacking in irony.    


Span Ows said...

Greta post and what a great game it was! Thoroughly enthralling and your point about the size/strength is correct: Bayern went out to bully the [gigantic] dwarves.

On the other hand it could be a betting scam and Barca will win 5-0 at home!

Span Ows said...

Do you think anyone, anywhere, predicted the two CL results this week?

Paul said...

Thanks for the comments. Re the second part probably no - although quite a few people have tipped Bayern to win and I have mentioned my feeling we might get a German final.

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