The UEFA Champions League semi-final draw held in Nyon, Switzerland yesterday has set up a clash of managers facing their former teams. Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich will line up against the club where he forged his credentials as a top manager, FC Barcelona while Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid will aim to crack open a resolute Juventus defence that just refuses to ship goals.
This leaves open the possibility of a dream finale- Barcelona vs Real Madrid! The two Spanish giants have never met in the final of the European Cup and football lovers will be buzzing at the prospect of these two teams facing off in Berlin on June 6th.
However, they need to overcome significant opposition first.
The last time Bayern met Barcelona at this stage of the competition, the Bavarians provided their opponents a whipping that they were unlikely to ever forget- a 7-0 demolition on aggregate. Still smarting from that defeat, Barcelona will look to set the record straight once and for all. However, it was Pep Guardiola that led Barcelona during a golden era that included 14 trophies from 2008-2012 and the Spaniard knows his former team well. The holy midfield trinity of Messi-Xavi-Iniesta may now have been replaced by the attacking trio of Messi-Neymar-Suarez, but Barca still play the same blend of attacking football perfected under Pep.
The Germans will be ruthless. Bayern Munich produced one of the most comprehensive comebacks in Champions League history when they destroyed Porto 6-1 at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday. Leading 3-1 from their home leg, Porto were confident of reaching the semi-finals for the first time since their memorable triumph in 2004 but what emerged from the wreckage at Allianz Arena was a group of shaken Portuguese.
Another interesting connection that links to the Pep-Barca story is Luis Enrique. The current Barcelona manager was Guardiola’s teammate at Camp Nou for five years, and the two remain close. When Pep went on to manage Barcelona, it was Enrique who replaced him at Barca B before departing for Roma some years later. With both friends now in opposite camps, they’ll each look to come out on top.
Bayern will likely try to exploit Barcelona’s vulnerability at the back. The centre back pairing of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano were unable to gel together in the early part of the season and that was what led to erratic performances by the Catalan team. They look composed now but have let still let down the team at times, most recently in the 2-2 draw at Sevilla. Bayern’s pacy wingers will look to exploit this weakness, and if the Spanish back line is breached, goals will flow.
One team that faces no such defensive issues is Juventus. The Italian champions have fought their way to this stage of the competition on the back of an impenetrable defensive wall and will be keen to go one step further and win it. However, standing in their way are the defending champions, a team that can beat any opposition on its day- Real Madrid. Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who coached Juventus from 1999-2001, will hope his side can reach back to back finals and maybe even go on to become the first team to retain the trophy.
Real’s season so far has been topsy-turvy. They led La Liga for a long time but inconsistent performances since the beginning of the New Year meant that they were knocked off their perch by Barcelona. Their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, looked out of touch after winning his third Ballon D’Or in January. His performance level dropped and BBC, ie, Bale Benzema Cristiano, Real’s famed attacking trio, lost it’s attacking punch. However, with the return of Ronaldo to form, Real’s fortunes have also changed and they have managed to cut the gap to two points in La Liga and are on the way to defending their title here in the UCL.
Italian football, reeling under an exodus of top talent and facing a monetary crunch has been looking for a messiah ever since the decline in fortunes of the Milan clubs. Juventus could well be that Messiah. The Turin giants are miles ahead of the pack in a slumbering Serie A- leading the race by a whopping 15 points, they became the only Italian Club since Inter in 2010 to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. Also in the final of the Coppa Italia, this could be a historic season for Juventus. Custodian Buffon, who at 35 is the only player in the current squad to have played the last semi-final Juve reached(in 2003) will look to motivate his teammates to lift the trophy come June 6th, 2015.
With the four semi-finalists sharing an incredible 21 European Cups between them, the semi-finals promise to be a cracker. No matter which teams make it to the showpiece, we know that we have a stupendous final guaranteed.
edited by Bhavna Rachuri