Good morning all!
At 7 o’clock this morning I awoke to see my street covered in snow. Can somebody explain to me where the bloody hell it came from? I half expected David Attenborough to begin the filming of a new series of ‘Frozen Planet’.
It’s crazy what a little snow can do, isn’t it? In my little village, a road is closed due to power lines being down and a tree has fallen at the top of my street, narrowly missing a car. It’s amazing and I’m pretty sure mainland Europe will be enjoying a bloody good laugh at our expense as we spend the next week struggling to deal with snow.
On to the football news and last night saw two matches played out by four massive clubs in Bayern Munich, Marseille, Barcelona and AC Milan. All four teams have a fantastic European pedigree and I was positively brimming at the prospect of both.
To be fair, I never made the Bayern v Marseille match as I was enjoying Barcelona’s thumping of AC Milan too much, though I knew I was safe in the knowledge that Bayern would walk over Marseille with little trouble.
Since March 3rd, Bayern have been in immense form having started the month with a 2-0 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen, Jupp Heynckes’ team have blown away their opposition, scoring twenty goals and conceding just the one through mid-March. From the match in Leverkusen in early March, to last night against Marseille, Bayern have won eight matches on the bounce, setting up a final between themselves and league leaders Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal.
Boasting an incredible attacking quartet of Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez, it’s no surprise to see Bayern doing so well of late, but as you may have picked up on in the last paragraph, Bayern are not league leaders which prompts the question; ‘why?’.
Despite being able to boast one of the strongest starting XIs in Europe, Bayern are fairly weak in terms of back-up to their first team. Beyond that immense attacking quartet, there isn’t much in the ways of real attacking talent. Nils Petersen was bought in the summer as back-up to Mario Gomez and has played just the eight games and beyond him is Croatian forward Ivica Olic, who was once a feared striker throughout Europe, but injuries and age (32) have made Olic’s pace redundant and he no longer represents the same threat, which is evident in return of two goals in sixteen appearances this season.
Beyond Mario Gomez, there is very little scope for a true striker to provide reliable back-up and if there is no Gomez, Bayern struggle. Similarly, it’s no surprise that when Arjen Robben is missing through yet another injury, Bayern find themselves fielding Danijel Pranjic.
For a team that Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp described as, ‘unstoppable’ this season, it’s been very disappointing for Bayern to have lost six matches. Admittedly, Bayern are only three points behind Borussia Dortmund, but they’re a young side with their own injury problems and as brilliant as Dortmund are, you must have expected Bayern to be well ahead by now in the league, yet squad depth is costing them.
Fortunately for Jupp Heynckes, such wasn’t the case last night as the likes of Robben and Gomez were rested, allowing for a goalscoring return from Ivica Olic and an appearance for the talented David Alaba.
Marseille consistently progress to these stages of the Champions League, only failing to go further through meeting another powerhouse of similar or higher stature to themselves. Marseille, despite their rich European history, are the flat-track bullies of the Champions League, picking off smaller teams and being knocked out easily by bigger teams.
Over in Barcelona, Pep Guardiola was hoping his Barcelona side would be able to deal with what proved to be a stubborn AC Milan side in Italy.
Against Arsenal in the previous round, AC Milan walked over Arsene Wenger’s side in the San Siro on what was a really terrible pitch. Milan’s pitch is reminiscent of a freshly ploughed field and is incredibly difficult for teams such as Arsenal and Barcelona to play on and unsurprisingly, both sides struggled and failed to score against Milan.
On a proper pitch however, AC Milan have been shown for what they really are against Arsenal and Barcelona. At the Emirates, Milan were battered 3-0 by Arsenal and if the Gunners had better luck with injuries for the second-leg, it could have been a lot more. Similarly at Camp Nou, Barcelona walked over Milan and to be honest, did anybody expect anything else?
On a better pitch, Barcelona were able to ping the ball about as they normally do, enjoying colossal amounts of possession in Milan’s half, probing for an opening and it was no surprise when Barcelona took the lead, albeit via a penalty. Having wreaked havoc in the penalty area, Massimo Ambrosini, who looked on the verge of exloding all night long, brought down Lionel Messi for a clear penalty. As you’d expect, Messi rolled it past Abbiati without any trouble.
AC Milan were set to hit Barcelona on the counter, but so many teams play in such a fashion against Barcelona that it becomes easy for Barca to read. In recent years, Inter Milan and Arsenal have enjoyed historic victories against Barca by going toe-to-toe and playing their own game. AC Milan would have done well to recognise this and although Nocerino replied to draw the scores level, it was widely acknowledged that it would only be in vain as Barcelona ramped up the tempo and forced another penalty out of AC Milan.
Alessandro Nesta, one of Italy’s best ever defenders was drawn into pulling Sergio Busquets’ shirt inside the area and even though Sergio is prone to a spot of play-acting, it was never in doubt that Barca should have been awarded a penalty and again, Messi rolled the ball past Abbiati, this time going to Abbiati’s left.
Andres Iniesta added a third in the second half to add to Milan’s misery and that was it, game over. At that, Ladbrokes put Milan at 100/1 to win the match and they were as good as out. Milan knew it, Barca knew it, everybody knew it.
If Chelsea beat Benfica tonight then they’ll set up a semi-final date between themselves and Barcelona. God help Chelsea fans watching David Luiz cope with Lionel Messi…
That’s your lot from me today! Till tomorrow.