Saturday April 26 2014

Bayern, Atletico favourites for Lisbon date



It wasn’t quite the cup which Champions League romantics refer to as Big Ears, but Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho were drinking from the same mug this week.
Spitting in the faces of any dissenting purists, the two managers went pragmatic in their semifinal first leg ties as they looked for the most practical way of booking a place in next month’s Lisbon final and a shot at football immortality.

Should Real Madrid or Chelsea go on to win the Champions League, either manager would join that elite class of the very few to lift that most coveted of trophies with multiple clubs.
For Mourinho it would be a record third different club after his memorable triumphs with Porto and Inter Milan, while for Ancelotti it would be a second after his previous victory with AC Milan, but more significantly it would be the agonisingly elusive La Decima (10th title) finally arriving at the Bernabeu.

For that to happen though, the two are going to have to overcome gargantuan odds, as in my books I have their opponents down as favourites to advance.

Putting hordes of men behind the ball and forfeiting possession and territory, Ancelotti’s Madrid and Mourinho’s Chelsea proceeded to shut out the opposition while looking to use the little they saw of the ball to hit home on the counter attack.

Real drew more success from the slant, getting the goal and the win at home that Chelsea couldn’t quite pull off on the road, but either team is going to find that the dynamics have changed over the next 90 minutes.

Bayern vs Real Madrid
Ahead of the first leg, Ancelotti had talked about the need to ‘keep it tight’. But 10 minutes into the game it was most clear that those inside the Bernabeu and the rest glued onto their television screens were shocked that Madrid could overstate the case of the underdog so, on home turf.
In the end the defensive effort - with the concentration to boot - was beyond remarkable, and even more laudable considering that they still contrived to use searing pace and sometimes even numbers to bomb forward and create enough clear-cut chances to have put this tie to bed. Still though, the signs were apparent that with a slight shift in fortune Bayern will breach that seemingly secured rearguard at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday.

A shot cannoning off Pepe’s back here, another bouncing off the shin of Sergio Ramos there, and one memorably drawing a super-instinctive save from a diving Iker Casillas relieved to see it travelling too close to him, all suggest that with the added pressure and urgency that will inevitably come, something will give.

Madrid must get a goal to survive in Munich, and even if Karim Benzema has been in fine fettle this season and can finally be relied upon, they are going to need Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to show up in much better shape only six days after they looked very short on fitness.
Because ultimately, Bayern are going to score. More than once.

Chelsea vs Atletico
If there was any shock in Madrid playing the way they did, there was absolutely none in Chelsea doing so. Mourinho might frown upon others parking the proverbial bus, but there is no better driver when he chooses to take the wheel.

Chelsea didn’t manage to go forward to the same effect as Real, and having not got that usually priceless away goal they now have to play with that sense of foreboding that as soon as Atletico score at Stamford Bridge, they (Chelsea) have to go out and win.

John Terry is supposedly out, but Branislav Ivanovic is back and Mourinho needs to send him into central defence rather than bring him in at full back, so that he joins Gary Cahill and so as to retain the covering presence of David Luiz and John Obi Mikel as a midfield shield, for they need all four positioned centrally just to shackle Diego Costa, Raul Garcia and David Villa.

Yet it is clear that they cannot rely again as they did, on Fernando Torres latching onto hopeful punts in his general direction, or winning potentially dangerous dead balls with some determined and direct running, all on his own. So they have to join him in the search.
Chelsea have to score first and early, and play again on the break. Anything short of that and they are doomed, because Atletico are bound to shake the net.