Sunday, April 13, 2014

UEFA Champions League draw twinned the football styles

What if I put it to you, that Arsenal's Arsene Wenger will not resign any time soon unless he wins the FA Cup. Can we accept it as a fact that if, and only if that happens, he will resign immediately as he will not entertain an embarrassing exit from the club that he took to dizzy heights and was credited with revolutionising the English game after his arrival in London almost two decades ago. Her Majesty, the Queen of England has done enough to hold her horses in knighting a man who once deserved the accolade, but has been questioned by many after his extended success-drought spell. Statistically, Wenger's numbers surpass those of Sir Alex Ferguson, but SAF won what mattered the most in over 30 matches.

This is just to warm our appetite for the Gunners' lucky break if reaching yet another FA Cup final, a fluke if you ask me. Let us stop analysing the UEFA Champions League. First and foremost, Manchester United's elimination ends their season early. The Red Devils had just hit a purple patch in all competitions but that loss kills any fight in them. There is no incentive to go on as they will officially miss Europe's top competition, the biggest club competition in the world for the first time in decades. Anyway, that is an Old Trafford problem.

It is common knowledge that Barcelona hordes the ball, but of late, the wheels are coming off their wagon. They are third in the league after their elimination from the Champions League by Athletico Madrid. I wish to combine Athletico's win with the victory Chelsea enjoyed. This is due to the interesting fact of their similar styles. They rely on a grafting work ethic that proves toil never fails. More so, whenever possible their go direct and quickly. This has been the rise of German teams. Theirs can not be deemed route one football, but they duel and combat at every situation and grind the results. There is little nice about their display but then, if it pays, why not.

Many have taken Jose Mourinho's cry that he has no strikers. That is very untrue as he has, but his plans exclude them. In Samuel Eto'o, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres, he has men who come on the field and perform their duties and leave, mercenary style. They are at his disposal and they never fail, but The Special One does not want things that way. The indulgence of having the versatile Hazard and Oscar and the hard work of Willian makes Jose think that he can play and win matches with the three. The rest of his line-up become accessories to complement the trio. The interesting thing about him is that he is never afraid to cut and chop at anytime and for whatever reason. He may decide to stick with his plans no matter how fruitless. He has guts to stop a working scenario and try something new. Like him or not, he does not care about criticism. He is a risk taker, and usually a good one.

The Barcelona football has always delivered a cut high in terms of class. Somehow, when I told you that Barca are finished, I got ridicule. Their fall did not start yesterday. Their football is getting more square and sterile. They used to have penetrative pace longitudinally at their peak, but they are getting flatter and flatter. Their most influential players in Xavi and Iniesta have more passes to the side and back than forward. They now play the football that Arsenal played when the Gunners thought they played lie Barcelona. Despite the cutting edge of Messi and Neymar, the offensive dimension is stunted by the extra passes and more importantly, lack of space for the two to use. Both players thrive on running towards defenders with the ball at high pace. They dribble and leave defenders for dead like tornadoes. One can argue the quality of the coach. That type of football needs excessive concentration. That is why Bayern Munich can pull it off for now, because they are German.

For Munich, it is obvious that their players enjoy a small variation to what they did before Pep Guardiola arrived. He introduced a little more patience with the ball, but they were always a team that kept the ball well and took shots a pass or two earlier with each attack. This tactics works well if the attacking confidence is high and gets complimented by the calm finishing. As soon as goals dry, as in the Barca case, this can be fatal. The Spanish giants now need serious attention, an overhaul. Their attack is getting blunt, frustrated and unproductive.

In my assessment of Athletico and Chelsea, I mentioned some directness of their football. Real Madrid are extremely direct but their game is complimented by pace. As soon as Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale get on their bikes, no scooter can catch them. Their downfall is their careless defending. The chief culprit is Ramos. Pepe complements his antics well too. With a little cool heads at the back, they would play a sustainable type of game with ease. Real Madrid depend on sound absorbance of pressure and as their opponents push forward, they leave reasonable space between their last defenders and the goalkeeper. It is that space that the scampering Bale and Ronaldo will attack with the ball to great effect. This becomes the exact difference between Real and Barca. Real attacks the space by utilising it with excellent running with the ball technique while Barca. depend on running at the defenders with the ball in tight spaces.

The Bayern Munich way would be classified as the Barca way with a tint of the Madrid football. Given that the Germans were drawn against Real Madrid, it makes it an interesting pairing that will give the Spanish some advantage somehow. With Bayern though, their attack is not as narrow as that of Barcelona. Ribery and Robben stretch the game wide and they come at high pace, Ribery going wide and sometimes to the by-line for the cross while the Dutchman will drift in from the right, drop a shoulder and curl the ball around the goalkeeper inside the far post. Still, they take an extra pass before an attempt at goal. There is likely to be more aggressive attack with entertaining outcome here that in the other semi-final where grit will outwit grit.

The best part of the draw is that we will be exposed to extreme types of football in the final. That is the solid game of either Chelsea or Athletico and the direct and clinical Real or Bayern approach. Either style has its own pros and cons but the interesting thing will be how useful the coaches use the tools at their disposal.