The Road to Berlin

Today the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League were drawn. The resultant matches promise high-class football and tension to the final whistle, with FC Barcelona vs. FC Bayern Munich and Juventus FC vs. Real Madrid.

FC Barcelona vs. FC Bayern Munich

So far, Barcelona haven’t really been tested, it seems. They comfortably won their group against Paris St.Germain, Ajax Amsterdam and APOEL Nikosia. In the round of 16 they defeated Manchester City twice (2-1 and 1-0) and then went on to eliminate PSG in the Quaterfinals with 3-1 and 2-0 victories.

Bayern on the other hand have been struggling. After a straight-forward Group Stage win, problems started in the Round of 16, when they drew 0-0 in the first leg against Shakhtar Donezk. At this point, slight doubts started to surface, as to whether Bayern was really capable of reaching the Final on German soil, as has been the clear goal from the start of the season. These doubts were shattered however, when they trashed Donezk 7-0 in the second leg at home to secure their place in the Quaterfinals. Facing so far undefeated FC Porto, Bayern’s injury problems became a serious issue, as the likes of Alaba, Robben, Ribéry, Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez were unable to play. This and catastrophic individual errors of Dante, Boateng and Xabi Alonso lead to a 1-3 defeat at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao in the first leg and chaotic days followed. Team Doctor Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt quit after supposedly being blamed for the long-term injuries of the players and in consequence also for the defeat to Porto. The doubts resurfaced and speculation began, whether Pep Guardiola would be sacked in case Bayern were eliminated in the Quaterfinals. Bayern, however, went into the second leg determined to turn the tie around and eliminate Porto with the support of the fans and the confidence represented by their famous club motto “Mia san mia”. As a result, they ended up leading 5-0 at halftime, the final score was 6-1 and they advanced to the Semi-Finals.

Fans have been looking forward to this match for a long time. The latest meetings between the two were memorable: in 2009, Barcelona eliminated Bayern with 4-0 and 1-1, while Bayern avenged itself in 2013 with 4-0 and 3-0 wins. Both teams have been regarded as the best football teams in the world in recent years, Barcelona won the Champions League in 2006, 2009 and 2011 and coined the famous Tiki-Taka playstyle with Pep Guardiola as their Coach. Bayern has reached the Champions League Final in 2010, 2012 (the “Finale Dahoam” in Munich) and won the competition in 2013. So the last meetings also saw the winner of this tie move on to win the entire competition and it seems likely that history is to repeat itself in that regard. The question is, who will qualify for the Berlin Final?

FC Barcelona have failed to reach the semi-finals last season but with their new signings Neymar and Luís Suarez as well as Lionel Messi playing at his best at the moment, they’ve returned to their former glory that has won them the UCL 3 times. They’ve won the latest Clásico and lead the Primera División by a two point margin over Real Madrid.

FC Bayern are still haunted by their 2013 Treble, the teams performances have since been compared to the standard of that season and mostly failed to live up to that expectation. So far, 2015 has been no exception, the team is one win away from defending its Bundesliga title, but they lost to Wolfsburg (1-4) and Gladbach (0-2) in the Bundesliga and to Porto in the Champions League. However, most of these problems originate in their bad luck with injuries, for most of the year, Guardiola had to make do without 7 or 8 injured players, at one point he couldn’t even provide 7 substitutes. As a result, there was little to no opportunity to give key players a break, even the recently recovered Thiago had to make 3 starting appearances in a row after just coming back from a year-long injury. In light of this, Bayern’s performances were admirable and the home wins against Donezk and Porto show that the team are able to play top-quality football in spite of all this, the psychological effects of the 6-1 comeback against Porto and Pep Guardiolas knowledge of Barcelona’s team could give them the edge over Barcelona. The key to this tie will most likely be the Defense, as both teams have world class offensive personell – Messi, Neymar, Suarez on the one side, Lewandowski, Robbery, Müller on the other – but sometimes lack defensive stability, as evidenced by Bayern’s errors in Porto and Barcelona giving away a 2-0 lead over Sevilla. This tie is to close to call right now. In theory, FC Barcelona are slight favorites in this duell, being the slightly more stable team in defense and not so plagued by injury, but if Bayern can achieve a draw at Camp Nou they are likely to use that advantage on home ground and advance to the Final.

Juventus FC vs. Real Madrid CF

Juventus was the team everybody wanted to be drawn against in this Semi-Final because they were seen as the weakest of the Final Four. In the Group Stage, they came in second behind Atlético Madrid, and left Olympiakos and Malmö FF behind to advance to the knockout stages. The Round of 16 saw them matched up with 2013 finalists Borussia Dortmund whom they beat twice, 2-1 in Torino and 3-0 in Dortmund. In the Quaterfinals they faced AS Monaco and in good Italian tradition, Juventus managed to pull through with a single goal scored in the entire duell (1-0 in Torino, 0-0 in Monaco).

The latter also applies to their next opponent Real Madrid. On their way to the Semi-Final, the defending champions won their group against FC Basel, Liverpool and Ludogorez Razgrad and eliminated Schalke 04 in the Round of 16, but it was a closer tie than they would have liked. Real won 2-0 at Schalke but lost 3-4 at home and just barely avoided elimination against the German underdogs. The Quaterfinals saw the ‘derbi madrileño’, Real Madrid vs. Atlético Madrid. At Atlético’s Vicente Calderon Stadium, both drew 0-0 but in the second leg at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, a late (88th minute) winner by “Chicharito” Hernández saw them through to the semi-finals with a 1-0 on aggregate.

Earlier, I wrote that the winner of Barcelona vs. Bayern is most likely also the designated Champions League winner. That is because neither Juventus nor Real Madrid have so far managed to play at the same level as Barcelona and Bayern. While Bayern had its difficulties, they were able to turn these into comfortable victories in the end by stunning home match performances, which Juventus and Real could not do. Juventus is a very strong side in the defense, having conceded only 5 goals in this Champions League season, but this comes at a price: with only 13 goals scored in the entire season to date, they are still below what the other Semi-Finalists scored in the Group Stage alone. Their strong defense however, might be enough of a problem for Real Madrid. The spanish side struggled to score against Atlético and created only one goal from countless chances throughout the 180 minutes in the Quaterfinals, despite the players they can line up in the attack, among those Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. On top of that, their defense turned out to be remarkably shaky this season, especially in their Primera División encounters with Atlético (0-4) and Barcelona (1-3) and the home match against Schalke (3-4), when they where just one goal away from a knockout. Keeping all this in mind, plus the fact that so far no Champions League Winner was able to defend the title, I’d say that after two close matches, Juventus will eventually qualify.

FINAL PREDICTION:

This would see Juventus and FC Bayern through to the Berlin Final. Given that I believe the Winner of the Barca vs. Bayern Semi-Final to be the Winner of the competition, I would bet on Bayern Munich to lift the trophy on June 6th.

Do you agree with my prediction? If not, then let me know in the comments who you think will win and why. I’m looking forward to your opinions!

so long,

SigmaTheta

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