If you believe in UEFA conspiracies, it seems like the ruler of European football want us to have an all-German or all-Spanish Champions League final, putting Bayern Munich with Barcelona and Real Madrid with Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals.
While a lot of people are quite literally salivating at the thought of having a Clasico in the Champions League final, we seem to think that after the second leg matches on April 30 and May 1 we’re going to have us an all-German final, giving the final stamp of the Bundesliga becoming the best league in Europe.
1 – Bayern Munich
Even if they do have to play Barcelona and Lionel Messi, Bayern are still the favorites. Winning the Bundesliga by 20 points isn’t something that can just be overlooked, and keeping Juventus on 0 goals in two matches while scoring four goals against them, including two on the road, means that Bayern, if anyone still had any doubts, certainly means business.
And when you look at the matchup they have with Barcelona, you can’t help but think that along with Real Madrid, they are the team that is best equipped to handle the certain talents Barcelona have to offer most of the world can’t handle. As we saw against PSG, without Lionel Messi, something is definitely wrong with this team.
One must mention the way Spain have dominated Germany in the matches between the national sides, which does bare resemblance to the player balance between both sides. And yet, Bayern aren’t Germany – they’re better. With Dante as their centre back and David Alaba and Franck Ribery to keep Dani Alves “honest” on the right hand side, and forcing more headaches upon those planning on how to handle the Bayern attack.
The other two teams? Bayern are better than Dortmund at the moment, as the league and their recent meetings have shown us. Real Madrid? Bayern went through a better Real side last season, and Bayern are far better than they were a year ago.
2 – Borussia Dortmund
The worst thing that happened to Borussia Dortmund when they met with Malaga in the quarterfinals was suddenly becoming favorites. For the last three seasons they’ve thrived on being the underdogs, coming from behind Bayern Munich to snatch two Bundesliga titles with style and craft, with a certain team blend and cohesion unlike any other in Europe, under the guidance of the fantastic Jurgen Klopp.
While being favorites in the Bundesliga turned into a futile chase after Bayern this season, too perfect to be caught in 34 matches, it took time for the general European to understand just how good the blend of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze is up front, backed by Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender in the midfield, while Subotic and Mats Hummels rule in the centre of defense.
Dortmund made it through the group of death without losing, overcoming both Real Madrid and Manchester City to finish on top of the group, despite being the popular pick to finish third in the group. What can you do – most “experts” don’t watch enough Bundesliga matches.
And after their 3-0 win over Shakhtar, came that dreaded favorite label against Malaga. Playing an away match in the Champions League is always about not conceding first and foremost. Then you worry about winning, and Dortmund had to win at home, where the pressure got to them, as shackles on the feet of most of its players allowed Malaga to overcome their decencies and almost pull an incredible upset. An arrogant yet excellent Real Madrid are now the next obstacle to overcome, putting Dortmund where they feel most comfortable – at the underdog seat.
3 – Real Madrid
Funnily, Real Madrid wanted to get Barcelona, the team they feel most comfortable with in a two-leg encounter, beating them twice already this season in that kind of setup. Dortmund? That’s something they’ve already tasted twice this season, being the inferior team when you look back at both group stage matches.
Real Madrid are a little bit different this time around. Cristiano Ronaldo is the same, but the confidence level around him has changed for the better, because of Jose Mourinho getting a little bit lucky – Diego Lopez turned out to be one of the best signings of the season, giving him an excuse to continue and bench Iker Casillas, while Raphael Varane is showing there’s no need to wait too long for potential to develop.
Dortmund make for a different challenge than most midfield units give Real Madrid – it forces Xabi Alonso to move out of his comfort zone, and pretty everyone to face a team that loves to counter attack, making Real Madrid play a little bit out of their skin.
If form is what’s important, there’s only one team in Europe reaching the semifinal in better shape than Real, and it’s not the team they’re going to face twice in a week at the end of April and early May. The problem is, previous knowledge and the recognition of a team that’s already outclassed them twice also sinks in, which makes Real Madrid the unluckiest favorites to enter a semifinal clash.
4 – FC Barcelona
What?! Barcelona? Underdogs? It seems that it’s been quite a few years, possibly since Barcelona came to the Santiago Bernabeu and won 6-2 that they’ve entered a match as underdogs. But when you lose to Real Madrid three times in a single season, while barely make it through against a stubborn yet less than brilliant PSG side, the pendulum starts swinging in a different direction.
Xavi just isn’t what he used to be, and until Barcelona figure out how to work that one out while worrying about their crumbling defensive game, Lionel Messi seems to be the only thing left to rely on. It might be blasphemy coming from someone who supports him as the best player in the world, but him being amazing and healthy might not be enough.
Bayern aim to be the new Barcelona. A team that brings in Pep Guardiola has to be thinking that, at least on the afterburner. Even if Germans have been a bunch of losers in the key moments over the last few years, this feels like the beginning of a new age, in which the Barcelona decline is felt stronger than ever.
Lionel Messi at his best might be enough to win the La Liga, but unless he’s in superhuman form for two matches, 90 minutes or more in each of them, it just seems hard to believe Bayern won’t go through.