Barcelona against Chelsea, Real Madrid against Bayern Munich. Three mega clubs, and one nuvo riche side fallen upon troubling times from a professional standpoint, but still had enough to make it through. The makings of a great Champions League Semi Final? Mostly, yes.
Benfica were probably the more deserving side in terms of the quality of play they produced all season long and through both legs, but ‘deserving’ doesn’t get you through these matches. Bayern eased through the crumbling Marseille team, Real Madrid had an even easier time against the Cypriots and Barcelona? Well, Milan can whine all they want to, but it was pretty clear who was the better side.
Reaching a sixth Semi Final in the last 7 years teaches a tad about how consistently great this team has been. But it’s Lionel Messi’s show at this point, with his 14 goals this season in the competition, obviously a new record, as proof. Did Barcelona get help from the referees? Maybe just a bit, but I don’t think, unlike half of the world, that it mattered much. The ref made the right decision, just an unpopular and an uncommon one.
Doesn’t matter who’s facing Barcelona, there’s no doubt which is the better side, who are the favorites. Even against Real Madrid, Barcelona are still the clear favorites to win a two leg tie, especially with the decider at the Camp Nou. Chelsea don’t have much to bring to the table but spirit and hopefully a defense that can hold on. I doubt that it will.
Why Kaka? Because he’s the X-factor, and someone’s Mourinho has been desperately hoping he’ll find consistency. Mourinho, as always, stole the show after the 5-2 win over APOEL, an impressive 8-2 after the two legs. The hints and allegations against Barcelona and UEFA couldn’t be clearer, peppered with saying Barcelona are a great team, adding the ‘… and we all know why…’ as the wink we all needed to understand.
But Mourinho has big problems. A tough schedule which included Atletico Madrid, Valencia and others in the league, and two Bayern Munich clashed to deal with. This is the best team Real have seen all season (besides you know who…) and it’ll be interesting to see how Real’s fragile defense holds out in Munich, and if Mourinho will stick to his attacking guns or actually mess with the tactics just a bit, fearing the Ribery-Robben-Gomez front.
Not favorites, but not exactly underdogs. Any team facing Real Madrid in a two leg clash, especially with Bernabeu hosting the second match, are underdogs. Bayern have gotten hot and smokin’ at the perfect time. Forget about Mario Gomez’ scoring record. Ribery and Robben, RiRo if you will, and especially Robben.
Why? Because when the former Real Madrid player is feeling happy, which he seems to be since his fantastic performance at Wembley, left backs and defenses tremble. Real have had their problems at the back, and I wonder what kind of fix will Mourinho apply to try and halt the wing play of Bayern. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s fitness and ability to dominate in the middle could be the key factor to whether Bayern make it to the home final.
Why John Terry? Well, he’s going to be the busiest person, along with David Luiz, Ivanovic and Ashely Cole, during their brutal schedule and the two matches with Barcelona. Terry didn’t hold on for the entire 90 minutes against Benfica, getting a bit of a scare off the bench as Javi Garcia scored a late goal. A vengeful Raul Meireles made it clear no one is taking Chelsea’s win away from them, despite how badly they played.
This isn’t the same Chelsea that was able to make life a living hell for Barcelona in years past. No aggression in the middle of the park most of the time, but not enough quality to try and match Barcelona with passing, skill and possession. Even a 10-men Benfica were better than Chelsea last night at Stamford Bridge. Chances? Petr Cech at his 2005-2006 form, complete lock-down mode on defense, and luck. Referees? They won’t make the difference, no matter how hard some people try and paint a different reality for your sake.