Saturday April 5 2014

Bayern, Barca to line up alongside Real Madrid and Chelsea in semis

Striker Fernando Torres came under

Striker Fernando Torres came under criticism from his manager Mourinho for firing blanks against PSG on Wednesday. Agencies photo 


It has been long since Barcelona had to play a noteworthy second leg of a Champions League tie away from home, an occurrence some have accepted as coincidence but others classified as conspiracy.
Somehow, especially in this dominant spell in which they have won three of the last six European titles but should indeed have had more, it always ended in the Camp Nou, that revered ‘cathedral’ with Europe’s biggest capacity, on perhaps the continent’s longest and widest playing surface.

When Inter Milan and Chelsea managed to close out the business over there, to say that they had to suffer for the result is to grossly understate matters; the red cards only typified a small part of ordeals in which they had to soak up untold pressure from a team who within the confines of that stadium play like men possessed on those special nights.

That advantage will not be forthcoming this time, and yet of the pre-tie favourites only Chelsea have a tougher second leg.
That said, I still believe Barcelona will make it to the semis, as indeed will Chelsea, to be joined in the Final Four by the other two favourites, Real Madrid and the holders Bayern.

Atletico vs Barca
Atletico are up against it, on two fronts. For starters, they have the dilemma of priorities that is ironically a price to pay for their success. Going into the weekend top of La Liga, do they fancy themselves as league or European champions? Or both? Diego Simeone’s men do not have the luxury of the massive squad rotation Barcelona are likely to turn to, and yet the table toppers have the tougher game against Villarreal compared to Barca’s Betis.

Playing their first team tonight will mean plenty of tired legs on Wednesday, against a Barca side for whom many key players will be fresh. Atletico are also up against it for their contrasting style to Barca. Every time the two have cancelled each other out this season, Atletico have come off like bloodied matadors who have survived a bullfight, and Barca like the bemused beast wondering how on earth his battered foe was still alive.
Ultimately for the matador, a heroic death is inevitable.

Chelsea vs PSG
Literally at a loss, Jose Mourinho initially blamed Chelsea’s misadventure in Paris on woeful defending, before wagging his finger towards his misfiring strikers.

Deep down he knows though that defend better at Stamford Bridge and they will be able to get the goals to overturn that result, no matter the source(s).

But since runaway French league leaders PSG are guaranteed to excuse their key men from domestic chores Mourinho, who no doubt still has designs on winning the Premiership, has to juggle and risk against Stoke. He can’t have his cake and eat it too.

Dortmund vs Real Madrid
With the football they play, even this scoreline is not out of reach for Dortmund, especially with Robert Lewandowski leading the assault this time.
But they really should have scored at the Bernabeu, and if Carlo Ancelotti curbs his team’s natural attacking instincts for long enough to make Dortmund engage in a desperate race against time, the Germans will open up and allow Real Madrid the space that suits their run-and-gun style.

Bayern vs Man United
It is a sign of the times that Man United should celebrate a draw at home in the manner they did, hysterical merriment, bullish talk and all.

What the performance and result against Bayern - right on the back of the heroic comeback against Olympiakos - have done is restore a good measure of respectability for a club that has been fast losing face all season.

That should come in handy in summer when they go out shopping for quality additions and replacements, but as far as advancing to the semis this result did little more than improve on belief.

The first leg suited United’s tactics of the defiant underdog to the letter, but there was still a lot of pleasant surprise in the execution. The second leg is a different ball game however.

Having to take forward-going risks to score, they will inescapably be caught out without the numbers they used as a shield at Old Trafford. They have a chance of getting that goal from a set piece, or even in open play if Jerome Boateng performs as poorly as he did, but it is not likely that they will stop Bayern from scoring at least twice this time., @markssali on twitter