Champions League: The Semi-final Preview

An enthralling and exciting semi-final slam awaits us. Four European giants, who play some of the most brilliant football ever seen throughout, battle it out for the chance, the opportunity to take the most prestigious club competition on the continent. Who are the favorites? Who are the underdogs? Here’s our world-class (somewhat) preview of what potentially awaits us all.

 

Bayern Munich – Barcelona

Bayern Munich have turned things around this season in grand style. It has even been said that Pep Guardiola might have nothing left to achieve by the time Jupp’ Osram’ Heynckes quits the Bavarians. News coming out of Germany this morning say that Mario Gotze is switching allegiance next season.

His next destination? The Allianz Arena to join his Nationalelf teammates, Neuer, Muller, Lahm, Schweini etc in what will be perhaps the best squad of players even assembled in Munich. The 6-1 mauling of Hannover 96 at the weekend was too good to be true. The Roten have scored for fun from the beginning of the season and only Arsenal have beaten them since the turn of the year. Against Wolfsburg in the Pokal Semis, Bayern also scored six and conceded one-a beauty from Deigo Ribas.

These goals galore have been done without the bulk of their first team players. The likes of  ‘EL Conquistador’ Pizarro who has been described as the best ’3RD STRIKER’ in the world by many, Jerome Boateng who has dropped to the bench since the start of the season, Xherdan Shaqiri, the diminutive Swiss winger, Arjen Robben who has found himself among the starters recently because of Toni Krooss’ layoff, etc have come in and done a great job. The Bundesliga champions are battle-ready for any team. Even Barcelona do not scare them considering the form they are in presently.

Barcelona are one of the favourites for Champions League glory. But before they secure a Wembley date against either Real Madrid or Dortmund, Bayern Munich must be stopped. However arduous it seems to be, the Blaugrana are unfazed by the challenge in front of them. A late 1-0 win over Levante nonetheless, the Spanish champions-elect have the ability to unsettle any team.

Tito Vilanova and his coaching staff are sweating over the fitness of star man, Lionel Messi. The Argentine has been sidelined for the last three League games and only came on versus PSG because it was absolutely expedient. Whether he can feature from the start today is something the management have kept close to their chest. If Messi does not play, the task will be made all the more difficult.

Barcelona have stars like Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Villa, Busquets, and Pedro, but without Messi, they are not so special. Forget the 5-0 success over an already condemned Mallorca. Carles Puyol and Javier ‘Jefecito’ Mascherano are currently sidelined through injury.

That leaves gaps in the Catalan rear guard which is likely to be filled by the returning Eric Abidal whose story has been one of greatness and determination. The Frenchman completed 90 minutes against Levante on Saturday. His height and balance will give him an edge over Adriano because of the giant nature of the Bayern point men.

Marc Batra can also line up alongside Pique if Abidal is not trusted enough to carry the responsibility.

 

PROBABLE LINEUPS

BAYERN: Neuer, Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba, Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Robben, Muller, Ribery, GOMEZ.

Lahm and Schweini return to the starting eleven after being left out of the team that won emphatically at Hannover. Mario Mandzukic is suspended for this fixture, so the other Mario, Gomez, will step in his shoes. Javi Martinez has been vocal in his praise of his Spanish friends at Barcelona. Paying homage to Xavi and Busquets especially. He must perform every well to also earn their eulogies. Arjen Robben has a point or two to prove tonight. His mistakes cost Bayern dear in last year’s final. He must make amends to get back into the fans hearts in a positive light.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, as usual, has a big role to play tonight. The German machine kept Andrea Pirlo quiet in the two matches against Juventus. A similar showing is expected of him when Xavi steps foot on the Inflatable boat in a few hours. Lahm, Gustavo and Dante will all miss the 2nd leg at the Nou Camp if they are cautioned in this game.

 

BARCA: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Batra/Abidal/Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa.

For all of Christian Tello’s runs, goals, and assists in the last couple of weeks, it is unlikely that he will start tonight. The experienced heads of Villa and Pedro will be preferred to the youthful exuberance of the pacy winger. Messi could return to the team and Sergio Busquets has shaken off a hernia problem to face the Bavarian giants.

It is in defence that the problem lies. Bartra, Adriano or Abidal? The answer lies with Tito and Jordi Roura. Gerard Pique was uttering some annoying things against Germany in the build up to his great game. He has  to do the talking on the pitch tonight.

 

Real Madrid – Borussia Dortmund

The Schwarzgelben might have shot themselves in the foot with the shocking news that Mario Gotze is set to join arch-rivals, Bayern Munich in the summer for 37 Million Euros. However tempting the offer may be/or have been, Germany’s Lionel Messi who says he’d rather be called the CR7 of DIE MANNSCAFT, should not be allowed to go for any price.

The Signa Iduna landlords are becoming a major force in Europe and to move further, their best players must stay put. That is beside the point. Some of immediate greater importance is before them. The visit of high flying Real Madrid who are so willing to win their 10th European trophy popularly called ‘LA DECIMA’ by the Merengues faithful.

Borussia Dortmund do not give a hoot about Real Madrid’s quest to win the Champions League – they harbour their own ambitions, too. The Borussens have relinquished their Bundesliga crown to Bayern already and are looking for silverware this season. A 2nd European triumph, 16 long years after the first, will be a fantastic accomplishment. Jurgen Klopp has been bullish in his assertions that BVB can do the impossible this term. No one can doubt the quality they possess.

Robert Lewandowski cannot stop scoring. If the Pole scores in his next 5 league games, he will break Gerd Muller’s long standing record of scoring in 16 consecutive League games  Mats Hummels has returned to full fitness and is poised to start alongside Neven Subotic in defence, leaving Felipe Santana on the sidelines. The Brazilian will be infuriated by this. After all, it is because of him that Dortmund are in the semi-finals. Rolls Reus scored against Real at the Bernabeu in their group encounter and can repeat the same feat if given the opportunity.

Real Madrid have a few injury problems. The war against Betis was won not without a few casualties. Benzema and Modric picked up minor injuries, while Marcelo was stretchered out of the pitch following a hamstring issue. Varane, Coentrao and Sergio Ramos are all likely to return to the starting 11 tomorrow. Di Maria and Xabi Alonso are also set to take their places in midfield and Pipita Higuain will lead the line with CR7 as usual, carrying the team’s hopes and aspirations.

Jose Mourinho has to decide yet again if Iker Casillas will return between the sticks or continue with the very impressive Diego Lopez. He wants to win the Champions League at all costs after three consecutive semi-final appearances. Dortmund stand in the way, just like Bayern last time out and Barcelona two seasons prior. The Portuguese is set to leave the Spanish capital at the end of the season. What better way to sign off than with a record breaking 10th UCL title.

Real will not look beyond this game despite the capital derby showdown at the weekend which will go a long way to decide who finishes as La Liga runners-up. The’whits’ must do better than their last showing in Rhine-Westphalia. The 2-1 loss was deserved by the Ruhr giants and they almost won at the Bernabeu until a late Ozil free-kick sealed a 2-2 draw for the hosts.

Tomorrow night, both sides will attempt to get an early goal and ultimately secure an unassailable advantage before the 2nd leg in Spain.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

BORUSSIA DORTMUND: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer, Bender, Gundogan, Kuba, ROLLS REUS, Gotze, Lewandowski.

Lewandowski has shaken off a minor problem to play in this game. Despite Gotze’s imminent departure, the playmaker will do everything humanly possible to destroy Real Madrid. Captain Sebastian Kehl who just signed a contract extension will start on the bench with Bender taking his place.

 

REAL MADRID: Lopez, Ramos, Pepe, Varane, Coentrao, Khedira, Alonso, Di Maria, Ozil, CR7, Higuain.

The back four will feature Ramos-Pepe and Varane from the start for the first time this season in Europe. Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira return to their adopted country. This time around, not to represent them, but to stop one of its leading teams from emerging victorious tomorrow.

CRISTIANO RONALDO is the top European goal scorer this season with 11 goals. Two more and he will reach the 50-goal milestone in the Champions League. He has 50 already this season in all competitions and 196 in Real colours.

 

Written by Ohiskaka Eboreime

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Borussia Dortmund: The Black and Yellows showing their bright future could be right now

Jose Mourinho said the world’s eyes would be on his Real Madrid side’s captivating win over Manchester United on Tuesday night, but that would have been a discredit to events over in Germany where Borussia Dortmund are offering their own brand of entertainment. As Madrid battled into the quarter-finals of the Champions League at Old Trafford, Dortmund joined them with a fine display at home to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Their 44 year old manager Jurgen Klopp, already boasting a decorated coaching reputation enough to make him an attractive proposition to the likes of Chelsea, stepped calmly into the media room after their 3-0 win and in fluent English, announced how “cool it was” to reach the last eight of UEFA’s premier competition for the first time since 1998.

A year before they had won the trophy with the well-drilled organisation of Ottmar Hitzfeld which suffocated Manchester United in the semi-finals and nullified Juventus’ majestic creative quality in the final, one will remember the superb job Paul Lambert did in man-marking Zinedine Zidane, but the ease with which Dortmund brushed aside Shakhtar last night will have made a case that the triumph could be repeated in Wembley this coming May.

It is a different dynamic ushered by Klopp, instead of the efficiency of Jurgen Kohler, Mathias Sammer and Martin Kree at the back and the relentless work-rate of Lambert and Andreas Moller in midfield, there is the technical brilliance of Mario Gotze and Marco Reus, the sublime passing of Ikay Gundogan and the smart movement of Robert Lewandowski. It is a young, slick, fluid unit littered with smart technicians who are fully comfortable on the ball. Dortmund are, to us Klopp’s terminology, a “cool” side.

They were far too cool for Shakhtar who were exploited by the movement of Gotze, who scored the second after delivering the corner for Felipe Santana’s opener, and Reus off the attacking line led by Lewandowski. The Polish striker used the freedom afforded by Klopp’s loose 4-2-3-1 to drift out to the right to provide Gotze before Jakub Blaszczykowski, playing on the right, got in on the act to roll home a third following a spill by Andriy Pyatov in the Shakhtar goal.

The Ukrainians were dragged around the pitch by Dortmund’s 54% control of possession and were picked off by the fluid interchange and understanding Dortmund boast in attack. The Germans had 17 shots to Shakhtar’s 12, the latter figure swelled by Mircea Lucescu’s reckless abandon of an already lost second-half. It became a rout. “I hope Dortmund reach the final as they’re a very strong side” said the Romanian coach, “I believe they deserved to go through, overall, the result correlates with what we saw on the pitch”, the assessment was not too far from the truth.

A third straight Bundesliga title will elude Dortmund this year as they lie 17 points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, despite only losing 4 times in their 24 matches, a large indication of the extent of Bayern’s unrelenting domestic dominance. Yet it has been another great campaign for Klopp and his talented squad, they finished top of the Champions League “group of death” outplaying Manchester City and Real Madrid in the process, and to show how dangerous their attacking quadrant can be, they have accounted for 44 of their 54 goals in the Bundesliga this season.

Marco Reus has been a revelation since his £14 million move from Monchengladbach in the summer having scored 11 goals and providing 8. The axis of him and Gotze is integral to Klopp’s system of high-tempo pass and move that relies heavily on the combative presence of Sebastien Kehl alongside Ilkay Gundogan, the deep midfield launch-pad who dictates play with both long and short range passing.

A narrow system in midfield allows for easier retention of the ball while Lukasz Pisczek and Mario Schmelzer provide the width from full-back. It is a system that is now almost second nature to Dortmund as Klopp has used it 21 times this season and refuses to deviate from it on the continent where possession is key.

At the back, centre-halves Nevan Subotic and Mats Hummels, who missed the game with Shakhtar, are both perfectly able on the ball, in-keeping with the modern game importance of bringing the ball out on the ground. It is an exciting squad in which every player is a talented ball-player.

Sir Alex Ferguson named Dortmund as the favourites to land the competition he was eliminated from on Tuesday, the same night the German club were making a claim that the Scot maybe won’t be too far from the mark. They will face tougher propositions than Shakhtar as they progress into the latter stages of Europe’s elite competition, but their exciting band of ambitious talents, led by their vernal and amiable coach, will be primed for the tests that will follow.

It could be 1997 all over again for the Black-Yellows.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Champions League: Borussia Dortmund is the team to look out for this season

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Back in the days, Dortmund was the team who feared no one. They were a complete powerhouse. Something similar to Barcelona nowadays. With the likes of Stéphane Chapuisat, Andreas Möller and Michael Zorc, the current sporting director of BVB, the team used to tear any defense apart with no hesitation.

For some reasons, Dortmund started to lose its form game by game, month by month, and unfortunately season by season. This went far more than what the fans ever thought their team would reach; missing out on the Champions League for 9 years in a row.

Nevertheless, all this have changed. Dortmund has been crowned the Bundesliga Champions for 2 years in a row now. Not only this, but demolishing a strong Bayern Munich side  5-2 in the final of the DFB Pokal in Berlin was everything they could ask for.

Dortmund developed into a team which plays brilliantly attacking and defensive wise. This all started as Jurgen Klopp took charge of the team. Taking the club to a 6th place finish in his first season, 5th place finish in his second and crowned as Champions in his 3rd and 4th says it all.

Dortmund didn’t need to invest a lot in the summer market 2 years ago. Instead, depending on talents rising from their incredible youth system, and smart transfers by the coach, they were able to go all the way from zero to hero. With an average of 22 years old team- apart from the Goalkeeper Weidenfeller- they proved that they have superb ability and talent to unleash to the world in the near future.

Been drawn in an average group last year, everybody thought that they can easily qualify over the likes of Olympiakos and an out of form Marseille. However, this was opposed by an extremely out of form BVB side who were suffering badly from the absence of Nuri Sahin. It took Dortmund around 3 months to reach their peak form once again.

Unfortunately; this was a bit late as they were ranked 4th in their group, not even participating in the Europa League.

In the following season Dortmund took a huge blow as their star player in the former season, Kagawa, had to agree on a move to Manchester United. The exquisite player Marco Reus was the solution to this problem. The best player in the Bundesliga 2011-2012; “Rolls Reus” is the complete package. He can dribble, shoot from distance, play through balls, and track back into defense. Therefore, his move to the German champions was timed perfectly to fill the gap left by the Japanese playmaker.

I would like to shed light on a few of their key players before discussing their Champions League campaign this year.

Goetze, 20 years old, is one of the world‘s best talents. Goetze is a right footed player, but he somehow manages to play with both feet. He has the ability to dribble past players easily, as his trickery and pace makes it hard for any defender to defend against him. Not to mention that he is blessed with a good eye for goal.

One of the best defenders nowadays is Mats Hummels. Barca is targeting him and ready to pay up to 30 million Euros in order to snatch him to the Camp Nou. He’s also a regular starter in the German National Team as well. He has the abilities to take penalty kicks; and doesn’t hesitate to score a goal every now and then from open play.

The clinical and lethal striker, Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker is not only prolific in front of goal, his amazing control on the ball accompanied by  some lovely technique helps him a lot in counter attacks or while facing teams which park the bus.

If I want to describe all the players, this would need an article by itself, so I’ll only be stating the names of the remaining key players; Weidenfeller, Schmelzer, Subotic, Piszeck, Gundogan, Bender, and Kuba.

One of the main reasons that pushes me to describe this team, and especially their performance on European level, is that people and media never give them the credit they deserve. Dortmund were drawn into the group of death along with 3 champions of 3 other leagues; Real Madrid, Man City and Ajax. Almost everyone thought Real Madrid will easily top the group and City will follow, leaving BVB and Ajax behind.

Dortmund started their campaign this year with a narrow late win over Ajax in Signal Iduna Park, thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s goal in the 87th minute. Dortmund didn’t put on one of their best performances in this game, missing many chances to open the scoring early on and allowing the Dutch to get through and make a few dangerous attacks. Roman Weidenfeller had to pull a few super saves in order to keep a clean sheet. However, the 3 points were everything the players needed in order to boost their confidence.

Their second game was against the English champions, “The Citizens“. In the Etihad Stadium, things looked different – Dortmund were the much, much better side. It was Joe Hart who had to put on a ‘one man team’ show to help the host keep the goal deficit as minimum as possible. If it wasn’t for Joe Hart’s saves and Dortmund’s lack of potency in attack, City would have easily been trailing by 3 or 4 goals before halftime. However, Reus was able to break the deadlock on the 61′.

While everyone thought the game is about to finish with a win for the BVB side, a penalty was awarded to the English side in the 89th minute. A controversial call over a handball by Nevan Subotic, which wouldn’t have been given by many referees, was rewarded a penalty to City which was translated into a goal by Mario Balotelli. A draw was not deserved for the Citizens as described by their Coach Mancini; it was sort of a fluke.

Gathering 4 points from the first 2 games in the UCL is such an amazing thing. Now, Dortmund had to host Real Madrid. This was the hardest test so far. Klopp was confident and so was his players. They went into the game with a mentality to win and nothing else; playing attacking football from the beginning forcing Mourinho and his boys to play on the counter.

Lewandowski was able to score the opener, but it was just a minute until Mesut Ozil was able to cut through the defense with a precise long ball which put Ronaldo alone with the goalie to score the equalizer. The Germans kept attacking, pressing, and doing all their best to get out of the game as winners. Finally, Schmelzer had scored a volley which sealed the game and gave the hosts a 2-1 win over 9 time champions, Real Madrid.

Top of the group with 7 points, Borussia Dortmund had to face Madrid in Santiago Bernabeu in a thrilling clash to decide who is the best team in this group? Madrid or BVB. BVB, armored with youth players, had to play a full 90 minutes in a stadium which not many could handle. Having to play while there are around 80 thousand fans cheering for and supporting the Spanish side is a lot to ask from a young group of players like Klopp’s side. Unsurprisingly, BVB entered the game as if they were the host team. Playing wonderful football and entertaining the spectators as if they were in Signal Iduna Park.

Taking the lead twice, yet losing it on both occasion. Credit goes to Mesut Ozil who was able to fire a well taken free kick from a tight angle into the net past Weidenfeller in the dying minutes. 2-2 was the full time score, giving the Borussians a 1 point lead over Los Blancos.

These 4 games have proven that Dortmund is not only a beast on the domestic level, but also on the international level, making them on par with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich.

All the best to the Black Yellows in their European Champions League campaign.

 

Written by Ahmad Kaddoura

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