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Bayern Munich: The German giant rising from its slumber

On Wednesday evening, a team who have been all-but-invincible since August won arguably their biggest game of the season.

Despite being 17 points clear in the Bundesliga, qualifying from their Champions League group at a canter and already with one foot in the quarter-finals, it was a German Cup match against Borussia Dortmund that ended any doubt that Bayern Munich are, once again, back to their best.

The 1-0 win, courtesy of a first-half strike by Arjen Robben, finally ended Bayern’s three-year wait for a victory against the side who, in recent times, have replaced them as the top team in German football.

Arjen Robben celebrates against Borussia Dortmund

While Dortmund ended last season with a second successive league title, Bayern suffered a hat-trick of near-misses, finishing runners-up in the league, losing to Chelsea in Europe and being humiliated 5-2 by Dortmund in the German Cup final.

So to heal old wounds, it was the perfect competition to finally seal the win that ends an unwanted statistic and sees them one step closer to a potential double of their own.

Much has been said about Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival at the Allianz Arena.  Hyperbole has it that he will single-handedly transform the Bundesliga into football’s hottest destination, and his new team into Barcelona Mark II.  But the truth is Bayern do not require transformation.

Under current manager Jupp Heynckes, they are on course for their most successful season in years. And there should be no doubt that the frustration of ending last year trophyless, particularly in the Champions League, makes them a very dangerous proposition.

In fact, events at Camp Nou pending, the Germans could go into the quarter-finals clear of two of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Come next season, Guardiola could be asked to continue, rather than reintroduce, success; because there is a very real chance that his new team could be the first German side to win the perfect treble, ending their three-year wait for a trophy in some style.

Having finally ended the hoodoo of Dortmund’s domestic and personal dominance, their fans may just see the club’s outstanding success of the mid-70s as a benchmark if not to be matched then certainly attempted.

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Chelsea’s Champions League triumph – written in the stars?

When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in July 2003 his main target was to see his side lift the Champions League. After Saturday’s dramatic final in Munich, the Russian billionaire’s dream has finally come true.

Many people will say that Chelsea were lucky to win the trophy; Bayern Munich completely dominated this final. The statistics in this case do not lie; the Germans had 35 shots compared to Chelsea’s nine and had 20 corners compared to just one from the west London outfit. This is where Bayern have only themselves to blame for not winning this final. They looked nervous in front of goal, particularly Mario Gomez, who wasted three golden chances in the first half and from those 20 corners they created very little mainly due to the poor delivery from Arjen Robben. Compare this to Chelsea however, whose one corner came in the 88th minute, and Juan Mata’s floated delivery was met by Didier Drogba, who showed great intent to win the ball ahead of the Munich defence.

If Chelsea had been beaten then there may well have been questions as to whether Roberto Di Matteo got his tactics right. His decision to start with Ryan Bertrand at left midfield would have been most under the microscope. The Italian trainer clearly did this to try and combat the threat of Robben and Lahm down that wing, but it seemingly backfired when Robben spent much of the first half controlling the game from the middle of the pitch and the opposite wing. Chelsea looked far better balanced when Malouda came on for Bertrand as a more natural left-sided midfielder.

The biggest tactical mistake of the night though may have come from Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes. As soon as Thomas Muller had put Bayern ahead in the 83rd minute, the Bundesliga team’s coach took him off and replaced him with the more defensive Daniel Van Buyten. This caused a major reshuffle for Bayern with the breaking up of Boateng and Tymoshchuk at centre back, who had both dealt well with Drogba, to allow Van Buyten into defence. This invited pressure onto the Bayern defence for the first time in the game and allowed Chelsea more of the ball for the final ten minutes.

There is a belief in football that sometimes a team’s name is already destined to be on a trophy before the final outcome has been reached. This was also spoken about when Liverpool won the tournament in 2005. Certainly there were instances along Chelsea’s route to glory that made you believe it was destiny for them to win it. Ashley Cole’s goal line clearance late on against Napoli that prevented them from falling 4-1 behind, the numerous Barcelona chances missed at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final and then missed penalties by two of the biggest names in world football, Messi and Robben, in the semi and the final.

The script of this final was clearly written for Didier Drogba also. In possibly his last game for Chelsea he came up with the stunning header for the equaliser. When Chelsea lost the final in 2008 to Manchester United, Drogba was sent off so was unable to take the decisive fifth penalty in that final which John Terry took and missed. This time though the Ivory Coast international was on the pitch and showed great coolness and composure in front of the Bayern fans to give his team the greatest prize in European club football.

What next for these two clubs though? Chelsea still do not have a permanent manager, but Di Matteo could not have done any more to put his name forward. But is he a big enough name and is the style of football that he has used good enough to satisfy Roman Abramovich? As for Bayern, major questions may now be asked of Heynckes. A few months ago they would have been eyeing up three trophies. Dortmund though have blown them away in the league through sheer consistency and then beat them for the fifth time in a row to win the domestic cup in Germany. Add to that losing on Saturday in front of their own fans and the board may decide it’s time for a change in Munich.

By Chris Newman

Chelsea beware: Five reasons that Bayern Munich are favourites for the Champions League final

Bayern Munich have a date with destiny this Saturday as they face Chelsea in the Champions League final. The Bavarian side have been eyeing this year’s tournament since the venue of the Allianz Arena was decided, and smart football betting tips have the Germans as favourites. Despite a determined opponent in the form of Roberto Di Matteo’s men, here are five reasons why the Bundesliga giants should be victorious.

Home advantage

The chance to play a major final at home is an overwhelming advantage, and the German side will look to make the most of this fact. Jupp Heynckes’ men have been imperious at the Allianz Arena this term in Europe, winning all their fixtures at home, including victories over Manchester City, Napoli, Real Madrid and a 7-0 mauling of Basel.

Chelsea’s depleted defence

Chelsea have been determined in defence this season, thwarting the likes of Barcelona in getting to the final. However the Blues’ backline will be severely depleted for the game against Bayern. John Terry was shown a red card against the Spanish giants in the semi-finals and thus will be unavailable, and Branislav Ivanovic, arguably the side’s best defender, is also suspended.

Mario Gomez

Finals are often cagey affairs, with the odd goal deciding the fixture in one side’s favour. The predatory and clinical nature of Bayern centre forward Mario Gomez could well be the difference between the teams, as the Germany international looks to continue his rich vein of form. The hitman finished with 26 goals in the Bundesliga this term and with 12 strikes in Europe, Gomez has proved himself as one of the continent’s most lethal marksmen.

Domestic despair

Due to Borussia Dortmund’s domestic dominance in the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal, Bayern quite simply must win to salvage their season and avoid two trophyless campaigns. Being crowned as European champions would be sure to take some of the limelight away from Jurgen Klopp’s men and give Die Roten’s fanbase something to cheer about.

Penalty preparation

With two evenly-matched sides competing in this year’s finale, there is every chance that the victors could be decided on penalties. German sides have an enviable record of success when it comes to spot-kicks, especially against English teams, and in Manuel Neuer the hosts have an excellent shot-stopper. Given Bayern’s elimination of Real Madrid on penalties in the semi-finals, and the Blues defeat to Manchester United in the 2008 final, the Germans would fancy their chances if it went down to this stage.

Published – Bundesliga Talk

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.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich: Six tactical factors that could decide the Champions League tie

Perennial European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been coupled together in the semifinals of the Champions League, in what should be a captivating and close tie.

The first leg will be played at the Allianz Arena on 17 April, with the deciding fixture in Spain a week later on 25 April. With world-class players on both sides, here are six tactical situations that could well decide which team progresses to the final.

Can Real Madrid Be exposed in wide areas?

One of the areas that Bayern will look to get joy from, especially in the first leg at home, will be out wide. In former Santiago Bernabeu wideman Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes’ side have two of the most potent wingers in the game, who play a major part in orchestrating the Bavarian outfit’s attack.

With attacking-minded full-backs such as Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao in Los Blancos’ side, and Philipp Lahm looking to get forward for the German team, Bayern may well find joy down the flanks. Although Madrid will most likely play two holding central midfielders in front of their defence in the away leg, out wide the likes of Angel Di Maria will be reluctant to track back—Bayern can use this to their advantage.

The predatory instinct of Mario Gomez

In Mario Gomez, Bayern have one of Europe’s form strikers, whose predatory instinct, finishing and movement off the ball is pivotal for club and country. The Bundesliga’s current top scorer showed his calibre in front of goal in the last round, hitting the back of the net four times against a hapless Basel side in the quarterfinals.

Jose Mourinho’s team selection at centre half will be interesting given that Gomez will need to be paid close attention. With Sergio Ramos currently on the sidelines through injury, the Portuguese trainer will pray that the Spain international returns in time to go head-to-head with Bayern’s main forward. If not, the less-assured Raul Albiol, hotheaded Pepe and ageing Ricardo Carvalho may well have their hands full.

Sami Khedira vs Thomas Muller

Real Madrid have recently looked to the Bundesliga for new signings, with Nuri Sahin, Mesut Ozil, Hamit Altintop and Sami Khedira all moving from Germany to the Spanish capital. Khedira may well have an important role to play in limiting the impact of Bayern playmaker, and international colleague, Thomas Muller.

At times petulant and inconsistent, Muller has the ability to be anonymous or a match-winner; at his best the attacking midfielder’s supply to hitman Gomez is a key feature of Die Roten’s play going forward. Muller will look to play in the hole between Madrid’s defence and midfield, and as such Khedira looks like the most likely option to shackle the talented playmaker.

The goalscoring threat of Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite it being widely acknowledged that Lionel Messi is the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo has inspired Madrid to the top of La Liga and is having a record-breaking season. The Portugal international has matured from a tricky winger at Manchester United to a powerful and at times almost unplayable attacker in his time in Spain.

Ronaldo’s threat is two-fold. Given a free reign to wreak havoc by the Spanish giants, CR7’s mobility, constant movement and lethal eye for goal make him a devastating attacker, and a major goal threat.

To be shackled or even partially stopped, Bayern will have to instruct the likes of Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Luiz Gustavo to be very disciplined in their positioning, and combative in their tackling. However, over-exerting resources to stop the world’s second-best player may well leave room for the likes of Di Maria, Ozil and Kaka to dominate possession.

The creativity of Mesut Ozil

An unsung hero in a star-studded Madrid attack, Mesut Ozil will be an all-too-familiar face for the German side. Where the likes of Ronaldo pose a direct threat through pace and power, Ozil’s main strength is passing and precision.

The playmaker is the fulcrum of Madrid’s possession play, and arguably has the most ability to supply the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, and create goalscoring opportunities.

With the Germany international’s guile, ability to slip a marker and superb eye for a pass, Bayern’s aforementioned defensive midfielders will need to get through a lot of work if the Allianz Arena outfit are to stand a chance.

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs Xabi Alonso

Two of the most accomplished midfielders in the European game, the battle between Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be key in the outcome of the two-legged tie. Although not always in direct competition due to Alonso’s deep-lying position, the pair are the heartbeat of their respective midfields and teams.

Alonso has the passing ability and regimented positional sense to allow those more gifted teammates in attack to prosper, whilst Schweinsteiger’s energy and influence on Bayern’s other players makes him a vastly important man for the Germans. With the pair potentially locking heads for their countries at Euro 2012 in June, these influential midfielders will be key men in deciding this tie over 180 minutes.

Published – Bleacher Report

Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich: The young and the new of German football meet

With three points separating the top two teams in the Bundesliga, leaders and champions Borussia Dortmund host perennial powerhouses Bayern Munich in a massive game at Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday. A win for the hosts will all but seal back-to-back titles, whilst an away victory will give the biggest club in German football the impetus to go on to win their title back.

Jurgen Klopp has transformed an underperforming and mediocre Dortmund setup into a well-tuned and talented squad of promising stars since taking over at the club in 2008. The team’s Bundesliga crown last season was the first since 2002, and the 44-year-old trainer has continued where he left off last term in 2011/12. Many feared for Die Borussen after the forced sale of key midfielder Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid and a slow start to the season, whilst Champions League elimination in the group stages proved that the young pretenders have a way to go yet to replicate the historic achievements of the European champions team of 1997.

Despite this, a run of ten wins from 13 league games propelled the holders back to the top of the standings, and the crown is now Dortmund’s to lose. With home advantage and their opponents still with European distractions, Klopp’s young superstars will look to strike a decisive blow on Wednesday. The likes of Mats Hummels, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze (although he will not play through injury) and Robert Lewandowski have shone over a fantastic 24-month period for the club.

Off the pitch, Dortmund recently claimed another victory over their traditionally superior rivals. The signing of Borussia Monchengladbach and Germany attacking midfielder Marco Reus, wanted by the Bavarians also, shows that Klopp’s men are serious in their rejuvenation and could be ready for a period of dominance in the country.

Bayern, by their own admittance, were poor last season but a summer of rebuilding, the arrival of Jupp Heynckes and a better start to the campaign has saw Die Roten back to their ominous best at times this campaign. Despite spending spells on top of the pile and thrashing sides on occasion, inconsistency has crept in at times domestically, which Dortmund have taken advantage of.

With Real Madrid lying in wait in what should be a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final, the Allianz Arena outfit have a potentially memorable end of season ahead of them. However, both Los Blancos and Dortmund will put Bayern under pressure, with the side’s defence still to really prove that it has what takes to challenge for honours. The attacking abilities of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez are not in question, however it is whether Bayern can shut out an attacking-minded Dortmund side that will be the difference in the game.

Dortmund won the reverse fixture 1-0 at the Allianz Arena through a solitary Gotze strike, and despite Bayern’s history, players and prestige will go into this game as favourites. The home side could well be on the verge of a new era of success, with 90 minutes for the young Borussen stars to prove their worth and retain their title.

Champions League quarter-finals preview: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich & Chelsea the favorites

This season’s version of Europe’s most prestigious club competition has thrown up surprises and shocks along the way, with a number of sides in the last eight exceeding expectations and defying Champions League odds. However, the usual suspects and biggest teams in Europe remain, with four mouth-watering ties having their first legs played this week.

APOEL vs. Real Madrid

This tie arguable epitomises what the Champions League is all about; David vs. Goliath, minnow vs. superpower. The Cypriot champions have delighted their fans with a fantastic showing this term, becoming the first side from their country to make the knockout rounds and beating some strong sides, including Lyon and Porto, along the way.

However, their opponents in the last eight are quite the step up. Real Madrid have been in scintillating form this campaign, lead the Primera Division and are unbeaten in this year’s tournament. Jose Mourinho has the experience of winning this competition with two other clubs, and with a masterfully in-form Cristiano Ronaldo in Los Blancos’ line-up, Madrid have every chance of glory this year.

Benfica vs. Chelsea

A tie between two very-evenly matched sides, Chelsea will go in as favourites but not by much. The Portuguese side have been markedly better this term, and eliminated Manchester United in the group stages. With the likes of Javi Garcia, Axel Witsel and Nicolas Gaitan in a youthful and exciting midfield, Jorge Jesus’ men will look to get ahead in the first leg at the Estadio da Luz.

Chelsea staged a remarkable comeback to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat to Napoli in the last 16, and now must be considered as challengers. Roberto Di Matteo has sparked a bit of life in his seasoned squad, and if the English side can deal with a hostile reception in the first leg, will be confident of progression.

Marseille vs. Bayern Munich

Both Marseille and Bayern Munich have been inconsistent this term, with lacklustre domestic campaigns being redeemed by the progress on the continent. Didier Deschamps’ men played well to eliminate Inter in the last round, but have lost seven out of their last eight games in a terrible run of form; to stand a chance in this tie they must recapture some form and resolve.

Bayern started out of the blocks at a lightning pace this term and dominated the ‘group of death’, knocking out Manchester City in the process, but have stalled in 2012. With Dortmund looking odds-on to retain their Bundesliga crown, the Bavarians are desperate for glory in Europe. Much is expected of Jupp Heynckes men this term, especially given that the final is at the Allianz Arena.

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

Arguably the tie of the round, Italy and Spain’s champions go head-to-head. These teams met in the group stages, with a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou leading to a 3-2 Catalan victory at the San Siro. Milan are one of only a few sides that may be able to stop Pep Guardiola’s men from winning this year’s trophy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in form and will be motivated to beat his former employers, but Massimiliano Allegri’s side will need to win the first leg at home to give themselves a fighting chance.

Barcelona are lagging behind El Clasico rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but the Blaugrana have kicked into form recently, and have won their last nine games in a row in all competitions. Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi is in ominous form, becoming the club’s top all-time goalscorer in past weeks; the Argentine seems to deliver in all the biggest games, and no team has managed to figure out a way of nullifying him as yet.

 Published – Champions League Talk

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Inter, Bayern and Real Madrid with work to do

The Champions League quarter final contestants will be decided this week, as the final four fixtures of the round of 16 take place on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. After stellar performances from the underdogs in the respective first legs, four favourites have work to do to make the last eight.

Chelsea vs Napoli

Since the 3-1 first leg defeat to an in-form Napoli in Italy, Chelsea have sacked Andre Villas Boas and will need to up their game if they are to stand a chance of progression; despite domestic wins of late, Walter Mazzarri’s men will pose a more stern test. The hosts need an attacking outlook, but with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik ready to pounce, John Terry’s role at the back is equally as important as the team’s attackers. Napoli have goals in them, but are also susceptible at the back; this was showcased in their 6-3 win over Cagliari on Friday night. Away goals could decide this tie.

Real Madrid vs CSKA Moscow

Real Madrid were expected to walk all over CSKA in the first leg, but the Russians put up an ardent fight to get a 1-1 draw at the Luzhniki through an injury-time equaliser. Jose Mourinho’s men are still in a dominant position to progress, with Cristiano Ronaldo in superb goal-scoring form; the Portugal international has 45 goals already in all competitions this term. The travelling support will pin their hopes on promising attacking duo Alan Dzagoev and Seydou Doumbia, but anything other than Madrid progression would be a massive shock.

Inter vs Marseille

Marseille take a slender 1-0 advantage to the San Siro on Tuesday, after a last-gasp Andre Ayew header gave the French side victory at the Stade Velodrome in the first leg. Claudio Ranieri has come under increasing pressure due to domestic inconsistency, and if Inter are eliminated the head coach will fear for his future. Didier Deschamps’ men are not in good form either however, and have lost all four Ligue 1 games since beating Inter in February. The midfield battle will be key to deciding the fixture and should be a pulsating watch, as Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano face Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder.

Bayern Munich vs Basel

Bayern have high hopes for this season’s Champions League as the final will be held at the Allianz Arena, however Jupp Heynckes’ men have stuttered of late and are 1-0 down against Basel after the first leg. The Bavarian giants did have ideal preparation for the second leg by beating Hoffenheim 7-1 on Saturday, with Mario Gomez grabbing a hat-trick. The Swiss champions will look to their excellent showing at Old Trafford earlier in the season as motivation, with Bayern-bound Xherdan Shaqiri the visitors’ fulcrum of attack.

With AC Milan, Barcelona, APOEL and Benfica already in the quarters, four close games will decide the remaining participants. Madrid should overcome CSKA, whilst Chelsea will most likely be eliminated by a classy Napoli outfit. Marseille have the quality to compound Inter’s misery and Bayern should fight back to knock out Basel – just.

Published – Soccerlens

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