Story lines aplenty
What does one expect when you have two sets of the games biggest rivals in the semi-finals of club football’s biggest competition? There has been no shortage of questions, story lines, and drama leading up to this weeks first leg fixtures.
Perhaps the biggest news came today, with Mario Götze reportedly agreeing to terms to play for Bayern Munich next year. According to Bild, the transfer fee for the young German international is 37 million euros. Götze is the do-all playmaker for Dortmund, who previous to this year had won two straight Bundesliga titles. Götze has become the face of Dortmund these past few seasons and will be missed by the Schwarzgelben. Another question that must be asked is where Götze will fit into an already crowded Bayern midfield?
As if Götze did not already have a lot on his mind, he will be facing fellow German international Mesut Özil of Real Madrid. Özil was the spearhead of the German attack in last summer’s European championship, while Götze was a seldom used sub. Could the two team up in Brazil next summer to form a formidable duo in the attacking third? Or will Löw stick with his typical line-up of Özil, Müller, Kroos, Khedira, and Schweinsteiger? Götze is slightly more versatile than Özil, capable of playing down the flank or on a wing. Jogi Löw will certainly be keeping tabs on his two playmakers during this match-up.
Mario Götze battles Angel di Maria for the ball. The two teams met in the group stages. (Photo: Reuters)
The managerial match-up is also worth keeping an eye on during this fixture. The ever controversial Jose Mourinho may have met his match tactically in Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp. Klopp is popular figure in German football, known for his experimental tactics and skillful handling of the media.
In the other fixture, Barcelona against Bayern Munich there is one story line that trumps all else. Will Messi play, and if he doe,s how effective will he be? Barcelona has a multitude of other world class players besides Messi, but it is no secret the Catalonians lean on their star to create and facilitate. They looked flat and uninspired in the second half against PSG when Messi went off with his injury. When Messi came on in the second half of the second leg he totally changed the complexion and flow of the match in Barca’s favor. Without Messi Barcelona is a totally different team.
Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes will step down at the end of this season. Taking his place is Pep Guardiola, who won two Champions League titles with Barcelona. Heynckes said he will not contact Guardiola for information on his former club. An interesting dynamic certainly.
What is the better league, the Bundesliga or La Liga? That is the question that, hopefully, will be answered after the semi-finals.
Dortmund Vs. Real Madrid:
The lowdown: These two sides both came out of Group D and played each other twice during the group stages. In Germany, Dortmund won 2-1. In Spain, the game ended in a 2-2 tie. Dortmund flies somewhat under the radar, lacking the big names hat Real Madrid has. One should not be fooled though, Dortmund has world class players. This fixture should have no shortage of attacking football as both sides can score in bunches.
What Real must do to win: Real has to get it’s play-makers in space. The strength of the Dortmund defense is in the center with Hummels. Ronaldo must attack down the wings and create chances for Real. If I am Jose Mourinho, I tell the likes of Ronaldo, Alonso and Modric to try a few from distance, as Weidenfeller has been a liability for Dortmund. Real controlled the majority of possession in the first two match-ups and they must try to do so again. Dortmund has to many player makers in midfield to sit back and wait for a counter-attack opportunity If the counter is there Real must seize it and go, as they do so well, but they cannot rely on the counter attack against an organized, disciplined side like Dortmund. The last thing Real needs to do is win free kicks in the attacking third. A case for Ronaldo as the best free kick taker in the world can easily be made. Real must earn their set pieces and convert them.
What Dortmund must do to win: Dortmund will need to see more of the ball than in the previous two match-ups, both of which Madrid out-possessed them. Dortmund is at it’s best with the ball at the feet of either Reus or Götze. Dortmund must play down the wing. Outside back is where Madrid is vulnerable. Dortmund will also look to send a flurry of crosses into Lewandowki, who has great aerial game. If Casillas does not play for Madrid, the Dortmund trio of Reus, Lewandowki and Götze will need to pepper him with outside shots, as all are a threat from distance.
X-Factor: Luka Modric. The Croatian playmaker is a game changer when in form. It is unlikely Mourinho starts him, but Modric has the pace, skill and experience to change matches as a substitute.
Dortmund is one of the best football atmosphere in all of of Europe (Fotos-Kirsche.de)
Bayern Munich Vs. Barcelona:
The lowdown: Bayern is playing the best football of any team in the world right now. They have won their last three Bundesliga matches with a combined score of 16-2. In addition, they dismantled Italian giants Juventus 4-0 on aggregate. Barcelona come into this game not quite as hot as Bayern despite leading La Liga by 13 points. They barely squeeked by PSG in the Champions League quarter-finals. They also are dealing with the sore hamstring of their star player Lionel Messi.
What Bayern must do to win: The same thing they have been doing for the past two months. In all seriousness Bayern cannot do much wrong as of late. They are both the deepest and most skilled side in the world. Ribery and Robben will create fits for Barcelona on the wings. Mandzukic will also pose problems for whoever starts in the centerback postions for Barca. Bayern will create chances, that is not going to be a problem. What Bayern needs to do is press everywhere like they did against Juventus. They must force errant passes to create immediate offense and force the Barcelona build-up to start in their own half. Bayern cannot afford to sit with 10 behind the ball. That is exactly what Barcelona wants, they would love for Bayern to sit back and let Xavi, Messi and Iniesta have their way. This match-up will come down to whoever dictates tempo and controls possession-that is the side that will likely come out on top.
What Barcelona must do to win: Get the ball to Messi. I am not joking. If Messi is not at least 80% this fixture will be a run away for Bayern. Barca is getting old and they have a bad habit of relying to much on Messi. This is not to say they do not have other world class players, they do. Bayern is a different beast though, the only comparable side Barcelona has faced is Real Madrid. Bayern, like Madrid has world class player top to bottom, players that can hurt you in space. The defense for Barcelona will be key. If they can dispossess Bayern in space and not let Bayern control possession they will be in good shape. Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes has been atrocious of late for Barcelona. He must show up and play world class football for Barcelona to have a chance.
X-Factor: Arjen Robben. Robben and Ribery have been perfect compliments to one another this entire competition. No team has enough resources defensively to slow down all of Bayern’s playmakers. This means Robben, whether he starts or not, will likely see less attention than will Mandzukic, Müller, and Ribery.
Prediction: Bayern Munich