Just a quick update, you can find my scouting report on this season’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage available online at UEFA.com as well as in the print copy of Champions Matchday for January 2015.
Here is the link- http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=2202605.html , any feedback would be more than welcome.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.
It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.
Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.
Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.
Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.
Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.
Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.
Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.
The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.
From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.
Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.
The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.
Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.
Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.
His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.
What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.
Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Ahead of tonight’s UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Diego Simeone’s outstanding Atletico Madrid team, Jose Mourinho has spoken of his bemusement at Chelsea’s misfortune in European competition over recent years.
The Portuguese coach is looking once more to become the first coach to win Europe’s top prize with three different teams however despite all his previous successes Mourinho has never been able to guide Chelsea to the final with the club falling at the semi-final stage in two of Mourinho’s three full seasons in charge at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho will be hoping Chelsea’s bad luck in semi-finals does not strike again this evening with the Europa League holders holding a slender advantage over Atletico due to the fact the deciding fixture is played at Stamford Bridge. With the aggregate score at 0-0 there is no away goal for Chelsea to defend or indeed rely on so should Atletico score tonight the complexion of the tie will be completely different for Mourinho’s men.
Speaking to adidas to promote Gamedayplus, Jose Mourinho suggested that when Chelsea finally did win the Champions League in 2012 it was justice following all the disappointments of the previous decade,
“I think Chelsea winning the Champions League was like bringing justice to a team that was a very strong team in the Champions League for about a decade. Chelsea has had everything in the Champions League, we lost that semi final against Liverpool with a goal that was not a goal and the next year we lose the semi-final on penalties.”
It is a well known fact that is was Roman Abramovich’s great desire to see his Chelsea lift the European Cup. After years of lavish spending without continental success the Russian oligarch turned to the youthful Andre Villas-Boas, fresh off Europa League success with FC Porto, to guide Chelsea to the holy grail of the Champions League title.
Villas-Boas and Chelsea simply did not work, issues with individual players and confusing tactics left the club facing an ignominious exit for the Champions League at the hands of Napoli. Roman Abramovich dismissed Villas-Boas and brought in trusted first-team coach Roberto Di Matteo to guide the club at the very least until the end of the season. Di Matteo had the backing of the players and somehow through fantastically focused performances and a degree of luck guided Chelsea to the Munich showpiece.
Mourinho in the same interview goes onto state how it was destined to be dramatic when Chelsea did finally reach their goal of lifting Europe’s top prize,
“Finally Chelsea won the Champions League so I think it was to bring justice to a group of players that were there fighting season after season and reaching semis and reaching finals and being stopped to do more and finally Chelsea did it also in a dramatic way also with extra time and penalties.”
Chelsea’s victory in the final over Bayern Munich seemed to have given Roman Abramovich a new lease of life in terms of controlling Chelsea. It had appeared that the years of European disappointment and bad luck had seen the Russian’s desire to spend significant money on players wane however since Didier Drogba’s decisive spot kick in Munich, Chelsea have gone from strength to strength and are well placed to reach a third European Cup final.
Chelsea will need both Liverpool and Manchester City to drop points between now and the end of the season if Jose Mourinho’s team are to win the Premier League once more and it does seem as though the Champions League is the club’s best chance of silverware this season. After a defensive masterclass at Anfield on Sunday Chelsea are facing a similarly strong defensive unit in Atletico Madrid which could make for yet another, shall we say unappealing match for the neutrals.
Jose Mourinho won’t care, nor should he. His main goal is to reach the Champions League final and then win it. Whilst he recognises how Chelsea deserved their success in 2012, there is absolutely no doubt that the ‘Special One’ would love nothing more than to guide Chelsea to the trophy. It has been his ambition since he left Porto in the summer of 2004 and for one reason or another he was never able to achieve it.
With there little more than six hours before kick-off in tonight’s clash it is certain that European Cup semi-finals involving Chelsea rarely pass without drama and we can expect as such this evening.
“José Mourinho was speaking to promote adidas Gamedayplus, bringing together the best of the UEFA Champions League in one place. To find out more visit adidas.com/gamedayplus or join the twitter conversation @adidasfootball”
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Manchester United manager David Moyes faced the World’s media this afternoon as he and his side prepared for tomorrow’s huge Champions League tie with Olympiacos at Old Trafford. Manchester United hope to overturn a two goal deficit from the first leg in Piraeus just under three weeks’ ago and David Moyes was yet again defiant in his press conference that he felt his job was safe and that there is a long-term plan for the progression of Manchester United despite what various reports have claimed since Sunday’s dismal defeat to Liverpool.
David Moyes began by addressing the good mood in training from earlier in the morning with MUTV’s cameras being given access to film the session due to tomorrow being a Champions League game. Patrice Evra would later allude to the fact that the match against Liverpool on Sunday had to be forgotten with full focus placed on putting on a significantly better performance against Olympiacos for the Old Trafford crowd.
It wasn’t long before the hard hitting questions were asked of the under fire Manchester United boss with the Scot having to assess just what impact the result of tomorrow’s match has on his job security,
“My future has not changed one bit, I’ve got a great job and I know the direction I want to go in. It hasn’t been the season we’d have hoped for at this present time however I’ve got ideas of what I want to do that I’m going to put in place when the time is right. The most important thing now is to get the Olympiacos game played and hopefully get through in that competition. If we can do that it would be a massive lift for us.”
Of course this sounds good in theory however some Manchester United supporters would question why ideas of progression aren’t being put into place right now with the club appearing to lurch from one on field disaster to another. Of course on the flip side of that David Moyes will argue he has had one fair crack of the whip in terms of transfer windows and during that period he managed to bring one of the better playmakers the Premier League has seen in recent times to the club and hopes to put more of those deals into place next summer.
Amidst the vast number of reports regarding David Moyes’ Old Trafford future penned since Sunday’s match with Liverpool there has been very little official word from the club with many simply suggesting the line from Old Trafford was still the same, “David Moyes will be backed.” Either David Moyes has a very, very good poker face or this is in fact one hundred percent true. The manager was asked what assurances he had been given by the club irrespective of what happens on the field between now and the summer and the former Everton boss’ answer was one of confidence,
“The biggest assurance is that they [Manchester United owners and directors] let me get on with the job, we never discuss it [job security], we talk about the future, we’re making big plans for years going forward, this is not a club that works on the short-term, Manchester United works on a long-term vision.”
The rest of the press conference was rather like many gone before with the manager pointing to the “phenomenal” support inside Old Trafford as well as the need to score the first goal against Olympiacos to give the place a real lift. Patrice Evra was also quizzed on his future with the club with his contract set to expire in the summer, despite having an additional year clause embedded within his current deal which was triggered once the Frenchman had played a certain number of matches in his final contracted season. Evra refused to comment on his own future only suggesting, “the important thing is Manchester United’s future, not mine” with many possibly taking that as a sign he may well leave the club this summer.
Whilst David Moyes once again quashed any rumours about his impending dismissal the press conference reached its close with one titbit from the manager particularly sticking out, “I think Manchester United are the biggest club in the world, it might not feel like it today, but it will rise again.” Whilst a very clichéd statement it is difficult to find fault with the final words. Manchester United historically do rise again, be that in a short-term period or over a longer term and at this moment it still very much looks as if the future rise of Manchester United is entrusted in the hands of David Moyes be that what some supporters desire or not.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Arsenal’s European adventure is over for another year following yesterday evening’s 1-1 draw with holders Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. The visitors needed to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg at the Emirates just over three weeks’ ago to progress through to the quarter-final stage for the first time since 2010.
Last night’s match had a lot of similarities to the meeting between the two sides in Germany last year in that Arsenal were more than a match for the Bavarian giants and it was only the first leg result which really did the damage for Arsene Wenger’s side. Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were obvious misses in the midfield but Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain did particularly well in their absence.
Bayern Munich set up in what has become their traditional 4-2-3-1 system which can fluidly turn into a 4-1-4-1 formation with Thiago Alcantara a drifting member of both the holding midfield pairing and an attacking midfield four. Thiago, whilst impressive on the ball, had his influence on the match restricted by the running of Oxlade-Chamberlain in defensive zones with the former Southampton winger more than willing to track Thiago back into Arsenal’s defensive area to ensure the visitors did not become overrun courtesy of a numerical mismatch.
Schweinsteiger’s return to the starting eleven saw the much talked about Toni Kroos drop to the bench and there was a notable change in the variety and consistency of Bayern’s movement of possession without Kroos dictating the play. If anything the first half was where Bayern looked at their weakest, if you can really say that about this current Bayern side, in the midfield and if Arsenal had been a bit more gung-ho in the first half then maybe taking the lead would have been possible.
One of the interesting pre-match quotes taken from Pep Guardiola’s interview to promote Adidas Gamedayplus, was his suggestion that German teams in the past struggle to defend a positive first leg result in European competition, “When they are going to defend our result, to defend something, they are not so good, so I improve that since I am here.” This desire to improve Bayern’s ability to defend a lead was evident last night with the positioning of the Germans’ back four.
The defensive line held a very tight shape and pushed up no further than the edge of the centre circle when Bayern had the ball in and around Arsenal’s penalty area. There was absolutely no risks being taken by Bayern in terms of defenders pushing up to try and win the ball back quickly and the only real breach of the hosts’ defences was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s incisive run before being fouled midway through the first half.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance was one of the numerous positives Arsenal can take from yesterday evening. It was reminiscent of Jack Wilshere’s performance against Barcelona in February 2011 when the then nineteen year old put in a sterling display against the world’s finest midfield and really proved he could mix it with the best. Whilst there was not much in creating clear chances from Oxlade-Chamberlain last night, such was the strength in Bayern’s defensive line, it very much showed he was more than capable of competing with the best and being on par with the Bayern Munich midfield on the biggest stage.
One of the areas where you felt Arsenal might have a chance was on set pieces, yes whilst Arsenal are not renowned for their aerial prowess the inclusion of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, both excellent headers of the ball, gave the Gunners a chance. However Arsenal were simply caught between a rock and a hard place due to being up against the most physically domineering goalkeeper in recent memory. If the ball was played in flat, looking for a flick on at the near post it was too easy for Neuer to muscle players out of his way and collect whilst if the corner was played further away from Neuer, past the penalty spot, the header could not pick up enough power to test the German number one with a prime example of this being Koscielny’s header in the second half.
Bayern Munich looked to have killed the tie completely when Schweinsteiger put the home side ahead with a controlled finish from inside the penalty area after some impressive work from Franck Ribery on the left hand side however Arsenal levelled just minutes after through Lukas Podolski after a collision with Philipp Lahm allowed the Arsenal striker a free run and strike at Neuer’s goal.
Try as they might for the remaining half hour, Arsenal could not muster a real crack at Bayern’s goal despite some good possession of the periphery of Munich’s penalty area as once again the Bavarian defence held firm. Arsene Wenger bemoaned the decision to award Bayern Munich a penalty in injury time, when Laurent Koscielny felled Arjen Robben, claiming the Dutchman “is very good at getting the maximum of nothing and he is a great player and as well a very good diver,” however Lukasz Fabianski stopped Thomas Muller’s spot kick.
Arsenal now only have the Premier League title race and FA Cup semi-final to concentrate out but with the squad likely to improve in the summer and with the two performances against the continent’s best this season there is hope for Arsenal’s European campaign next year.
In the second match of the evening, AC Milan travelled to the Vicente Calderon to try and overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg against Atletico Madrid. Things did not get off to the best of starts for the Milanese giants as Diego Costa put the home side in front after just three minutes with a clever volley. Milan levelled through Kaka just before the half hour and a short spell of control followed for Seedorf’s charges however any real hope of turning the tie around was destroyed just before half-time when Arda Turan’s strike from outside the box took a wicked deflection into the Milan net.
All the momentum from Milan’s comeback was taken away and the team struggled to put the wind back into their sails in the second half, Mario Balotelli was particularly disappointing as rumours about his future in the fashion capital of Italy continue to make headlines. Further goals from Raul Garcia and then Diego Costa late on condemned Milan to a 5-1 aggregate loss and the end of their run in the Champions League for this season. The real worry for Milan is that sitting in tenth place, a whole twenty points of AS Roma in third, all but ensures that this will be their last action in Europe’s top competition for at the very least a full season.
This evening Manchester City look to succeed where Arsenal failed by overturning a first leg 2-0 deficit at the Camp Nou however with both teams suffering embarrassing defeats at the weekend this could well be a nervy affair. The return of Sergio Aguero will however give even the most pessimistic Manchester City supporter a glimmer of hope of a quarter-final birth. Bayer Leverkusen will be very much in damage control mode this evening as they head to Paris on the back of a 4-0 defeat in the first match.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
As the 2013-2014 season progresses one of the transfer rumours which simply won’t go away is one involving Bayern Munich’s metronomic midfielder Toni Kroos. Kroos, whose contract in Bavaria is up at the end of the 2014-2015 season, has been repeatedly linked with a cut price move to Manchester United this summer with the German midfielder desiring a wage similar to that given to Bayern Munich’s other stars.
Despite words from Franz Beckenbauer alluding to the fact Bayern Munich will not be held to ransom by one player, and that the club will therefore not break its wage structure to keep one player happy it still seems as though a re-signing with Bayern Munich is the most likely outcome for Toni Kroos, especially when you consider the recent endorsements from manager Pep Guardiola with the Spaniard believed to desperately want to keep the midfielder at the club.
“Toni played awesome but not just in this game [vs Arsenal], the whole season. We had a lot of problems at the beginning of the season in our midfield because we had a lot of injuries and I hope he maintains this level until the end of this season.”
With the long-term fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger not clear after a run of numerous injuries of the past two seasons, and with Pep Guardiola possibly having the long term plan to utilise Javi Martinez as a central defender, as he wanted to when he was in charge at FC Barcelona, there is very much a key place in the midfield belonging to Toni Kroos. Obviously there is competition for places in the Bayern Munich squad with such an array of talent in all areas but if you were going to look at the most important players, the spine of the team if you will then you have to include Toni Kroos in that.
The former Hansa Rostock youth midfielder is so centric to what Guardiola has thus far accomplished at Bayern. It was always impossible to improve on a treble winning season, however the real task for the two time UEFA Champions League winning coach was to make Bayern a sustainable entity, to improve them in areas which ensured they could challenge for the top honours every season without relying on individual brilliance, and he has done that. Kroos controls the tempo of Bayern’s play from either a deep position or a position further up the field as we saw recently against Schalke, where he made 142 passes in a 5-1 victory. Furthermore, as Guardiola states, he was tremendous at the Emirates just under three weeks’ ago working as a calming presence and moving the ball into good areas to take control away from Arsenal following the opening ten minute spell.
Kroos’ goal was an example of his individual brilliance, a perfectly struck shot which started off going way wide of the left hand post and somehow curled into the top corner. A true sign of how good the strike was is how goalkeeper Fabianski clattered into the post in an attempt to keep it out and was still somehow nowhere near it.
Guardiola was also discussing this evening’s tie with Arsenal with the current holders of the Champions League being two goals to the good after the first leg in London.
“We will be respectful, because in knockout games when we play against Arsenal or other teams, all of the people around the world think Arsenal know they are out of this competition already. It’s not true. I’m pretty convinced of that.”
Guardiola finally gave a closing word on how he is looking to change the traditional German approach to knockout ties when you have a lead to defend,
“Bayern last year took a better result than this year so 1-3 is better than 0-2.The Deutschland culture for the mentality, they are so good when they are aggressive, when they are going to look for something, to take something. When they are going to defend our result, to defend something, they are not so good, so I improve that since I am here.”
This is definitely one of the areas I mentioned earlier where Guardiola can improve the team to give this current Munich squad long-term sustainability at the highest level.
“Pep Guardiola was speaking to promote adidas Gamedayplus, bringing together the best of the UEFA Champions League in one place. To find out more visit adidas.com/gamedayplus or join the twitter conversation @adidasfootball”
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4