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Bayern Munich vs Arsenal: Last hope or no hope?

Following last week’s eliminations of Manchester United and Celtic, Arsenal are now Great Britain’s last remaining representatives in the Champions League. Fans not susceptive to tribalism may, for one night only, cheer on a club simply for being close to home. But should they bother?

Gunners fans will point to the absence of Franck Ribery through injury and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng through suspension as causes for optimism. Add to that the potential absence of Arjen Robben due to a calf problem and Bayern are without some key ingredients in what has been an outstanding season to date.
But with the German side already holding a 3-1 advantage, with three away goals to boot, everything points to an Arsenal exit.

Theo Walcott

The current Bundesliga leaders have lost only one league game and one European game all season. In short, the team who were once called “the invincibles” are facing their (almost) modern day equivalent. And in order to overcome them, Arsenal require three goals without reply. This against a team that has conceded only nine home league goals all season, and only one away!

With statistics like that, it is no wonder football observers are wondering what will happen when Pep Guardiola takes charge next season. It is a scary prospect when they are already near-perfect without him.

Arsenal’s last outing was their 2-1 league defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsene Wenger will be hoping for the perfect response from his team. The only downside is that the perfect response may still not be good enough against a side that almost invariably score. Should they do so, the pressure on Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla will be huge.

Bayern Munich celebrate

Their only hope is to score first, keep it tight at the back, and play the game on their own terms. The speed of Theo Walcott on the counter-attack could be crucial, but against a side that don’t need to leave gaps, it may be in a set-piece – at least for the opening goal – that Arsenal’s best hope lies.

With Jack Wilshere ruled out for three weeks and Lukas Podolski also missing, Arsenal will hope the players they can call on will prevent it being a hat-trick of last-16 eliminations. But with Manuel Neuer in goal, the likes of Philipp Lahm and Javi Martinez in front of him, and Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic a constant threat up front, it will take an almighty performance from the London side.

Anything is possible in football, but some things are more possible than others.

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Champions League Final: Why Chelsea can upset Bayern Munich

It has been quite the Champions League campaign this season, with a number of shocks, surprises and upsets, none more so than the fact that Chelsea ousted Barcelona in the semi-finals to set up a final against Bayern Munich. With the last fixture taking place at Die Roten’s Allianz Arena home, the Bundesliga giants will be favourites, but the Blues should not be written off; here’s why:

Roberto Di Matteo and recent resurgence

The Chelsea side that was comprehensively beaten 3-1 in San Paolo by Napoli earlier this campaign, Andre Villas-Boas’ last European fixture in charge, looks like a different team to the current crop. Under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo the Blues have only lost one game in their last 17, with the playing squad seemingly rejuvenated under the former Chelsea midfielder. Despite being favourites, Bayern will have to work hard to overcome a team in form.

A last hurray for the old guard

With the signing of Marko Marin announced for next term, Chelsea are expected to bring in a host of younger players this summer to inject a fresh feel into their squad. This may well mean the end for a number of the established players that have been the basis of the Stamford Bridge side over the last five years. The likes of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and even Frank Lampard may well make an exit from west London at the end of the campaign, making them more motivated to end on a high.

Bayern’s questionable defence

Although the Bavarian side’s rearguard has improved since last season, there are still question marks over their central defenders. Jerome Boateng has been used in the middle of the defence despite playing the majority of his football on the flanks, whilst Holger Badstuber is suspended for the game against the Blues. The Premier League side will be aware of this and look to attack the heart of the hosts.

Didier Drogba

Given the unconvincing nature of Bayern’s backline, Didier Drogba will look to use his considerable ability and experience to take full advantage. The Ivory Coast international looks to be one of the players certain to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer, as an expiring contract has not shown any signs of being renewed. The African marksman scored the winner against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge and in the FA Cup final, and will be the west London club’s main attacking weapon in Germany.

Published – Bleacher Report

Bayern Munich v Chelsea – the road to the Champions League final

An unlikely Champions League final of Bayern Munich vs Chelsea is set to be played at the Allianz Arena on May 19th, as the sides have both proved their worth to overcome underdogs tags to make the final. But how have these two sides managed to get to the final?

Bayern Munich

After the naming of the Allianz Arena as the venue for the 2011-12 final, all Bayern eyes have been on this campaign, which has been rightly earmarked as a potential opportunity to end their 11-year drought in winning Europe’s top tournament. With the Bundesliga also a priority but now conceded once more to Borussia Dortmund, the chance of becoming European champions has the ability to redeem the club’s season.

The German team were drawn in the ‘group of death’ along with Manchester City, Napoli and Villarreal, but stellar home form saw Die Roten top the pool. A 2-0 win over the Premier League team set the tone for the group, whilst a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Napoli ensured that the Germans would be dominant. Despite losing their final game at the Etihad Stadium once qualification was already ensured, Bayern’s professionalism and quality in the pool must be admired.

After flexing their European muscles in the pool, the knockout stages has been a story of the club’s determination to reach the final. After a 1-0 defeat to Basel in Switzerland in the first leg of the last 16, doubts over Jupp Heynckes’ men’s credentials were raised and duly squashed with an unprecedented 7-0 triumph in the reverse fixture. The Germans were drawn against an underperforming Marseille in the quarter-finals, and despite the mediocrity of the opponent, a 4-0 aggregate win must be admired.

Real Madrid in the semi-finals was the Bundesliga team’s real test, and over 210 minutes of football and penalty kicks, Bayern proved that they wanted victory more. An attacking outlook in the first game at home had Los Blancos on the back foot, and a plucky last-minute Mario Gomez goal gave them an advantage at half way of the tie. Within 14 minutes of the game at the Santiago Bernabeu fixture the Bavarians found themselves 2-0 down, but the side fought back to 2-1 and eventually won the tie on penalties.

All-in-all, Bayern are a more assured and rounded team than last season, and have had to fight back from difficult positions at times throughout the campaign. In Mario Gomez the side have a forward always liable to pop up with a goal, especially given the quality supply of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. The main development from last term however has been a steadying of the backline, with the summer additions of Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer now looked like excellent business. Add this all-rounded team to a frightening home record (they have won every game this season at the Allianz Arena) and Bayern will take some stopping.

Chelsea

Chelsea have been two contrasting teams in the Champions League this term; one under Andre Villas Boas and one under Roberto Di Matteo. The Italian has rekindled the side’s belief, and ultimately been the man responsible for getting the west Londoners to the final hurdle.

The Blues topped Group E, comprising Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Genk, despite a number of shaky moments. A 2-1 defeat to the Germans at the BayArena and a 0-0 draw with the Belgians away from home failed to inspire, but the English team did win all three home games, scoring 10 unanswered goals in the process.

A last 16 tie with Napoli, Manchester City’s conquerors, promised to be an exciting match-up and did not disappoint. After being thoroughly outplayed and beaten 3-1 at San Paolo, Villas Boas was replaced by Di Matteo, whose side staged a remarkable and unlikely comeback to beat the Italians 4-1 at Stamford Bridge in the return leg. This was undoubtedly the turning point of the Blues’ season, and the springboard that sees them in the final.

A potential banana-skin tie awaited Chelsea in the quarter-finals, as Benfica, who progressed through their group at the expense of Manchester United, would prove no pushovers. However, an assured performance at the Estadio da Luz saw a 1-0 win for the Premier League outfit, who huffed and puffed to win the return fixture 2-1 also. Brave team selection in the away leg by Di Matteo reaped benefits, and set up a semi-final with Barcelona.

Chelsea had unfinished business against the Catalan giants after previous close calls, and over 180 minutes rode their luck but ultimately did what it took to make the final. Despite being outplayed in the first leg, a 1-0 victory courtesy of a solitary Didier Drogba strike gave the Blues the slimmest of advantages to take to Camp Nou. After 44 minutes of the second leg Chelsea were staring down the barrel: trailing 2-0 and down to ten men after John Terry’s dismissal. However, a deft Ramires chip, stern defensive effort and last-gasp Fernando Torres strike offered up a memorable night for the travelling support.

Over the course of the campaign it is difficult to pick out individuals who have inspired their team to progression, as the upturn in fortunes must be accredited to a collective team effort. Undoubtedly Chelsea’s senior players have led this, and Didier Drogba, out of contract in the summer and facing an exit from the club, must get credit for his goals and leading from the front. Di Matteo’s tactics and man management must also be heralded, and the Italian must surely be given a permanent place on the Stamford Bridge hotseat should his team defeat Bayern in the final.

At times with more grit than guile, Bayern and Chelsea deserve their places in what should be a blood and thunder final. The Bavarians have an exemplary home record, but on current form, if anyone can beat them at the Allianz Arena it may well be the west London outfit.

Published – Soccerlens

Bayern’s attack proved its worth in the first leg; their defence is key in the return against Real Madrid

Bayern Munich are 90 minutes away from a home Champions League final, with a massive Bavarian fanbase praying that this year will end an eleven-year wait to be crowned European champions once more. Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu is as daunting a fixture as any in world football, and the German visitors will be up against it from the first whistle. The side’s attack has given them and advantage; it is now down to the at-times criticised backline to secure progression.

Jupp Heynckes’ men showed their worth in the first leg of the crunch tie, with a no-fear and attacking outlook resulting in a slight but deserved victory. Goals from Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez, who secured victory in the dying moments, mean that the Bundesliga giants take the smallest of advantages to the Spanish capital.

Die Roten’s ability on the offence has never been in doubt; with the likes of Gomez, Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller at their disposal, Bayern’s prowess on the front foot is rightly respected by all in the game in Europe. However, despite the team’s defensive efforts improving from last term, there are still question marks over the back four and the organisation of the Bavarian rearguard.

Traditionally Bayern’s approach was based around a solid backline, with the Allianz Arena outfit recording countless 1-0 victories on the back of a hard-fought early goal and a dogged defensive effort. However, the class of 2012 do not give the club’s followers the same confidence as teams of the past. Jerome Boateng has been brought in to solidify the centre of the German defence and although the side has leaked less goals than previous campaigns, the reformed full back and Holger Badstuber have come in for criticism, specifically aimed at their concentration and positioning. They will be severely tested on Wednesday, but given an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong on the biggest stage.

In Cristiano Ronaldo the hosts have arguably the form player in world football, and with the likes of Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria in support, Los Blancos have set records and all but won the Primera Division title back this term. A 2-1 win at Camp Nou on Saturday, no mean feat, will mean that the Santiago Bernabeu crowd will be baying for German blood in midweek.

To successfully negotiate this tricky task, Heynckes must get his tactics right and the starting XI must show discipline and play to their strengths. As the game progresses, if Bayern can stave off Madrid’s attacks, the crowd could get edgy and the home players slightly desperate. The likelihood is that the Bundesliga outfit may well need an away goal (or two) to get through, and to achieve this the likes of Ribery and Robben must take advantage of the positional mediocrity of Madrid full backs Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo or Alvaro Arbeloa.

Finally, rumours that Robben and Ribery had a falling out and came to blows at half time of the first leg must be firmly banished; a monumental team effort is needed for the German club’s dream of participating in a Champions League final at the Allianz Arena to come to fruition.

Champions League semi-final second legs: Chelsea and Bayern with work to do to oust Barcelona and Real Madrid

This season’s Champions League hangs in the balance, as perennial challengers and favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid trail after their semi-final first leg ties. Chelsea’s stubbornness at Stamford Bridge and a last-gasp Bayern Munich winner at the Allianz Arena, means that the Spanish giants have work to do if they are to meet each other on Europe’s biggest stage.

Barcelona vs Chelsea 

European champions Barcelona have had the worst week in their recent history over the last seven days, with a frustrating 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in England followed in quick succession by a league title-surrendering 2-1 loss at home to Real Madrid on Saturday. Pep Guardiola’s men have been the team to beat at home and on the continent for recent seasons, but their reign of dominance is currently being threatened.

The Camp Nou side will be confident of getting back into this tie however, as a poor track record in England over the last ten years continued last week. The Blaugrana will know that Chelsea rode their luck slightly in the first leg, but will hope that home advantage will inspire an attacking performance and victory.

Chelsea’s rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo continued in the win over the Spaniards, and although the Blues sacrificed the bulk of possession and an attacking outlook to seal their victory, will be pleased to take an advantage to Catalunya. The fact that the English side prevented the free-scoring champions from hitting the back of the net in the first match-up will provide as a motivation, and give Di Matteo’s men belief that Barcelona are not unstoppable.

Despite going into the game expecting to have to soak up a lot of pressure and territory, Chelsea must look to get at least one away goal if they are to stand a chance of progression. Not many teams prevent Barcelona from scoring over 90 minutes, never mind 180, and the Blues will look to the likes of Didier Drogba to get an invaluable goal at the home of the European champions.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich

Real Madrid will be on a high after their exploits at Camp Nou at the weekend, and will be confident of overturning a 2-1 defeat against Bayern Munich from the first leg in Germany. Jose Mourinho will be upset at the nature of conceding in the last minute in the first exchange, but a Mesut Ozil away goal will mean Los Blancos go into the game as overwhelming favourites.

The Santiago Bernabeu have all but wrapped up the Primera Division title, and will look to complete their overhaul in superiority over their Clasico rivals by making the final of the Champions League also. With Cristiano Ronaldo in record-setting form and supported by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Kaka, the Spaniards have the ability to get the goals needed to secure progression.

Bayern are looking to salvage their season after missing out on the Bundesliga title for the second campaign in a row, and have all their hopes of success firmly rested on this season’s Champions League. A 2-1 win in the first leg showed that the Bavarians have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s best, and with the final of the competition at the Allianz Arena this year, the club is dreaming of glory.

Whether or not Jupp Heynckes’ men make the final of the tournament will depend on the ability to stave off a lethal Spanish attack. Bayern’s defence has come in for criticism over the last couple of seasons, and the likes of Jerome Boateng, Phillipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer will need to prove their worth. Similarly, one would think that Mario Gomez or one of his attacking colleagues will need to get at least one away goal for the Germans to overcome the Spanish giants.

The Champions, Perennial Giants or Underdogs? Bundesliga title to go down to the wire

This season’s Bundesliga campaign has already been as exciting and enthralling as any in the recent memory, especially given the tightly contested title race. At the time of writing champions Borussia Dortmund sit top of the pile, after a great run of form has made up for a sluggish start. Bavarian giants Bayern Munich have an unbelievable amount of talent at their disposal and want their top flight crown back at the Allianz Arena. Meanwhile, last season’s relegation escapees Borussia Monchengladbach have defied theodds by challenging for top spot with a rock solid defence. But where is the Bundesliga title going in 2011/12?

Borussia Dortmund

After an impressive campaign last year where Jurgen Klopp’s young superstars won the German top flight at a canter, a very slow start to this campaign had many questioning the longevity of the relatively inexperienced group. However, after Champions League expulsion, the Signal Iduna Pak outfit have been able to solely focus on domestic matters, and are now top of the Bundesliga by four points.

Die Borussen have won 12 games in a row in all competitions, and their attacking stars such as Shinji Kagawi and Robert Lewandowski are impressing suitors in Germany and further afield. A blow for the holders has been the injury to key playmaker Mario Gotze, but the side have not missed the Germany international too much as others have stepped up to the plate. Most certainly the team to beat, it is Dortmund’s title to lose with 11 games remaining.

Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich are Germany biggest and most successful team, but when things don’t go to plan the Bavarian team and fans gets rather restless. After losing their first game of the season, Jupp Heynckes’ side hit their straps and bulldozed their way to the top of the standings in impressive fashion. With Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer adding defensive steel to the attacking prowess of Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery et al, Bayern looked like a shoe-in for the title.

However, inconsistency and defeats against the other two challengers for the league have seen the Allianz Arena team drop to second. Add to this the fact that they are still in the Champions League, and Die Roten need to up their game, starting with a tricky away fixture against Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena this weekend. The fixture against Dortmund on April 9th could well decide the destination of the crown.

Borussia Monchengladbach

Currently in third place, Borussia Monchengladbach have had a fantastic season to date, and even if they do slip away from title contention must been applauded for going toe-to-toe with the big boys and more than holding their own. Lucien Favre’s side’s success has been largely based around their stellar defensive abilities; the underdogs have only conceded a miserly 14 goals in 23 fixtures this season. Whether or not they can on to finish in the Champions League qualification places or even win the division is in the balance; they are currently in third, five points off the pace.

A downfall to a smaller club’s success is that the inevitable purging of players starts to take effect, and this has been the case at Monchengladbach. Undoubted star Marco Reus is on his way to Dortmund in the summer, Roman Neustadter is heading off to Schalke, whilst Bayern court Brazilian defender Dante. One thing is guaranteed; if Monchengladbach finish first or tenth they should be saluted for their captivating form this season.

Published – Bundesliga Talk

An ode to Mario Balotelli: his notorious on and off-field antics (to date)

Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli is without doubt one of the most interesting, but controversial players in the current game. Flashes of brilliance for the Etihad Stadium outfit, Inter and Italy testify to the 21-year-old’s ability, but scandal and strange off-field behaviour have never been too far away in the attacker’s short career to date. Currently suspended by the FA for kicking out at Tottenham’s Scott Parker, here is the flamboyant forward’s rap sheet:

  • Born to Ghanian parents Thomas and Rose Barwuah, Balotelli had a life-threatening intestinal illness as a child that he survived. Taken into the care of Francesco and Silvia Balotelli at the age of three, Balotelli accused his biological parents of ‘glory hunting’ when they tried to make contact with him after he became a professional footballer.
  • Signed for Inter back in 2006 from Serie C side Lumezzane, Balotelli had a trial at Barcelona at the age of 15 but did not make the grade.
  • Made 59 appearances for Inter, scoring 20 goals. Won three Serie A championships, one Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa Italiana and the Champions League in 2009-10.
  • Infuriated Inter fans when he wore an AC Milan shirt in a television interview, was reportedly seen shopping in the AC Milan superstore, and his numerous fallings out with Jose Mourinho blighted his time at the San Siro.
  • Moved to Manchester City in August 2010 for a fee of £24 million, following Roberto Mancini to England.
  • ‘Mad Mario’ has been involved in a raft of motoring incidents; he has been fined £10,000 in parking fines during his time in the United Kingdom, has had his car impounded 27 times and crashed his Maserati sports car within days of having it imported from Italy. Turned the backyard of his English mansion into a quad bike track.
  • Balotelli is not shy when it comes to flashing the cash; when pulled over police the striker had £5000 in his wallet. When asked why he was carrying so much money by the police officer he replied: “Because I am rich.” In December 2011 he dressed up as Santa and handed out money on the streets of Manchester; the same month Balotelli also donated £200 to his local church, before paying for a £1000 round in a bar the same day.
  • Disciplinary matters have blighted his career – Balotelli has been sent off against West Brom, Dinamo Kiev and Liverpool. Fined £100,000 for throwing a dart at a City youth player.
  • Let off fireworks in his house the night before a Manchester derby, before becoming an ambassador for firework safety. Broke a curfew before a game against Chelsea to go to a local curry house, where he was involved in a mock sword-fight using rolling pins.
  • Scored in the said Manchester derby and unveiled a t-shirt with ‘Why Always Me?’ on it; City went on to win 6-1 at Old Trafford.
  • Has been involved in training ground bust-ups with Vincent Kompany, Jerome Boateng, Carlos Tevez and most recently Micah Richards.
  • After City won the FA Cup in 2011, Balotelli said: “This season I have been s***. Can I say that?”, on live television.
  • After he won the European Golden Boy trophy in 2010, Balotelli claimed to have never heard of runner up Jack Wilshere and stated that Lionel Messi was the only player in the world better than him.
  • Incensed Roberto Mancini by trying an audacious pirouette finish when through on goal in friendly match against LA Galaxy in the United States; was instantly substituted.
  • Made his international debut against Ivory Coast in August 2010. Was spotted using his iPad on the Italy bench in a game against the Faroe Islands.
  • Was summoned in September 2011 to give evidence in a high-profile Mafia court case in Italy.

And finally, there was this:

Super Mario is becoming an ever-more important member of Manchester City’s squad, and his talent in undeniable. On the international scene, he seems to be in Cesare Prandelli’s preferences currently, and is set to star for Italy at Euro 2012 this summer. However, most football fans are captivated by the Italian’s unorthodox behaviour away from the game, with the above list set to grow in years to come.

Published – Soccerlens

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