The last four of the UEFA Champions League looks remarkably similar to last season: Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid all featured last year. For Chelsea read Borussia Dortmund. Boring? Not really, because the Champions League has rarely failed to excite this season – witness the quarter final ties between Barca and PSG and Malaga and Dortmund.
UEFA will be pleased that the three big guns are still there, guaranteeing a real heavyweight final at Wembley at the end of May. While Dortmund are the underdogs in this quartet, Real Madrid will be only too aware that the Germans beat Jose Mourinho’s charges in the group stage.
Bayern Munich against Barcelona is undoubtedly the tie of the round. Bayern are not having an easy run, having come up against Juventus in the quarter-final. Bayern are arguably the best team in Europe at the moment, although Barca will argue that claim. The Catalans haven’t looked as invincible in recent weeks and they struggled to get past Paris St. Germain until Messi came off the bench.
Bayern have the ideal motivation to come through against Barca. Two Champions League final defeats – the most recent on their own ground against Chelsea – have spurred them on in 2012-13, culminating in the earliest ever crowning of Bundesliga champions.
Despite winning 24 of their 28 Bundesliga games, the most recent the 1-0 success at Frankfurt that clinched the title, Bayern have shown vulnerabilities in the Champions League. In their group, they were beaten 3-1 at BATE Borisov and after taking Arsenal apart in London, they lost 0-2 at home in the second leg with a very clumsy performance. But the two-legged win against Juve suggested they are focused on reaching Wembley.
Barca, who are just a few games away from winning La Liga, reached their sixth consecutive semi-final after edging past Paris St.Germain. People were ready to write Barca’s Champions League obituary when they lost 0-2 in Milan, but their second leg display, with Messi in irrestible form, was one of the highlights of the season. Barcelona have never been knocked out of the European Cup/Champions League by a German side and the last time they came up against Bayern, they trounced them 5-1 on aggregate (2008-09).
There is a sense of destiny about Real Madrid’s run in the Champions League. It looks as though Mourinho will be exiting the Bernabeu in the summer and if the media talk is accurate, may be heading for England. How appropriate it would be to end his time at Real at Wembley, enabling him to take a cab from the stadium to his new home!
Real are in their third consecutive semi-final but they have not been successful ast this stage since 2002. Mourinho is Mr Champions League having won it with Porto and Inter, and would love to make it a hat-trick with different clubs. Don’t rule it out!
But Real will have to get past a Dortmund side that has frightening pace, razor-sharp finishers like Robert Lewandowski, and no shortage of aggression. Let’s not forget they won the Bundesliga in 2011 and 2012, and they are set for the runners-up spot this year, behind the all-conquering Bayern. They are in rhe semi-finals on merit.
The composition of the last four underlines the growing feeling that Spanish and German clubs are moving ahead of their English counterparts, who dominated just a few years ago. In the past four years, only Chelsea (2011-12) and Manchester United (2010-11) have featured in the penultimate round of the competition. This compares unfavourably to the period 2006-07 to 2008-09, when three clubs from England lined-up in the semi-finals.
This leads to inevitable claims that there is a crisis brewing. Certainly, English clubs have been lack-lustre this season, with Chelsea and Manchester City proving that money can’t buy everything. City have been unfortunate in their two group stages, but in order to make themselves less vulnerable, they have to build a Champions League pedigree – not easy when you get drawn against the top sides from Germany, Spain and Holland. As for Chelsea, their early exit highlighted that, despite lifting the Champions League last season, their team may be packed with gifted ball-players, but it is far from balanced.
So who will line-up at Wembley? Game of the People anticipates that Bayern will squeeze past Barca and Mourinho will get his third final. But on the other hand….