Pep, Where Do You Go From a Treble?

Yesterday, Pep Guardiola was somewhere in the world scouring his contract with Bayern Munich for the release clause if they won everything. Expectations were high for the Spanish manager months ago when he agreed to become Bayern’s next gaffer but in the extremely likely possibility that Jupp Heynckes and his side come out victorious against Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal final, repeating a treble or at the very least a double is going to be the measuring stick for Pep.

After I got past Gus Johnson’s annoying, over-the-top, canned enthusiasm, I was able to sit down and watch a good game of football that showed all the finer points of the game and all the reasons that Bayern Munich is on the precipice of being the continent’s powerhouse. Wave after wave of yellow-clad attack crashed against Bayern’s goal in the early parts of the game and Manuel Neuer pulled off a few saves that would deem him a worthy man of the match choice.

If it weren’t for his opposite number, Roman Weidenfeller, making just as many spectacular saves including one with his face and Arjen Robben’s refusal to use his right foot, Bayern could have easily run away with this game.

Pep Guardiola may have thought about extending his sabbatical to avoid taking a side that is one win away from a treble.

Pep Guardiola will have the highest expectations of any manager in Europe when he takes over Bayern Munich, who are one win away from completing the treble on the season.

Fortunately, Robben was able to use his right foot to cross it to Mario Manzudkic for the opening score (I actually think he was trying to shoot) and got the ball in a place that he could shift it onto his left foot to score the game-winning goal.

It must be said that normally when I watch a game as a neutral fan of the game, I tend to lean towards the team that isn’t the media’s darling. Deep down, it is difficult for me to get behind a side that is being trumpeted for how they built their team rather than how good that team is. There’s been more than a few times when I’ve wanted to smash my TV during a Barcelona game because the commentators kept saying they “built their club the right way.”

It must also be said that I respect Borussia Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp for what they have done in the past handful of years but even they had to go out and buy a few key players to mix into their youth system stars.

The second half was a showcase of what happens when you take a club willing to splash the cash on the players they need and mix it with a world-class manager who knows how to use those players. Heynckes’ men spent the better part of the forty-five minutes putting their rivals to the sword. Dante’s moment of insanity in the penalty area was one of the few blotches on an otherwise spectacular performance by the Champions of Europe.

All that’s left now is to applaud the efforts of Borussia Dortmund. We know we all got up off our seats when Neven Subotic slid in to clear the ball off the line (and we all cursed at Robben a little for not sliding in himself to push it into the net). They performed valiantly but when the chips are done nothing beats experience. Three Champions League finals in four years is pretty experienced.

Winning the German Cup will cement this season’s Bayern Munich team as one of the best teams in recent memory, if not ever, and that’s the club that Guardiola will be taking over in due time. The man who showed a penchant for winning trophies at the club that he himself played at will have a much more difficult time keeping the Bayern board on his side after this season.

His first game in charge, the UEFA SuperCup, will give him his first opportunity to win silverware with the Bavarians and you can be assured that even if it is against Jose Mourinho and a hungry Chelsea side, Bayern is expecting to add that trophy to their cabinet as well as a few other from the next campaign.

Regardless of how many pieces of silverware Pep wins in Munich, we will all remember the night when Bayern climbed to the top of the European football mountain and planted their flag atop it. We can all be assured that their tie with Liverpool as the only two five-time winners of Europe’s most prestigious competition will not last too much longer and I hate to say that the English club won’t be winning its sixth anytime soon.

Barcelona’s Messi-Dependency

In the two-legged semi-final against Bayern Munich, it has been downright painful watching Barcelona. That gilt edge that they’ve been known for playing with was dulled and the Bavarians dominated them for 180 minutes to the tune of an astounding 7-0. While I did predict something like this would happen to Barca, I didn’t think they would roll over as easily as they did when they decided to not play the world’s greatest player, Lionel Messi, showing their dependency on the Argentine.

It’s not often that you see the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta being hauled off, not because they are hurt or being rested but because they aren’t involved in the game. It seemed as if the entire machine failed to work properly without Messi in the fold. Of course, it also failed to work when Messi was on the field in the first-leg albeit with a bit of a knock.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

As strange as it sounds, a club with the world class talent that Barcelona has has developed a frightening dependency on one player. It’s the same knock against Tottenham and Gareth Bale, however, one would believe that Barca has the talent to overcome any dependency on any one player.

Tito Vilanova has a problem on his hands. He needs to find a way to break the dangerously strong link between Messi’s play and the success of the team. His side is good enough to beat anyone with or without Lionel Messi, but they should still be able to put the ball into the back of the net even with him sitting on the bench.

And that’s why I think it’s time for the Blaugrana to start filtering in the next crop of players and re-tooling their side. Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t think they should get away from what has gotten them to where they are, but I think they need to get players in who haven’t developed the tendency to look to Messi to bail them out of the difficult situations they find themselves in.

It’s time for Barcelona to see if players like Gerard Deulofeu, Cristian Tello and Jonathan Dos Santos have what it takes to continue to move this club in the right direction or if they need to bring in the likes of Neymar to get the club’s ambition and drive back to where it was under Pep Guardiola.

By no means is this a knock against the team’s talent. We all know that Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world on their day but that’s not the team that we’ve saw in the two legs against Bayern Munich.

We saw a club that was overmatched, outcoached, outplayed, out-everything and it has a lot to do with Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi.

A Special Failure in Madrid

Again, Real Madrid was ousted in the Champions League semi-finals despite their valiant effort to fight back from their 4-1 deficit against Borussia Dortmund. This makes the third straight year that the Merengues have been knocked out of the race for the cup for the big ears, all under Jose Mourinho. With the money backing them and the amount of talent at the Bernabeu, it could be considered a massive failure that Mourinho has only won three trophies while in Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One, but his special-ness hasn't extended fully to Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One, but his special-ness hasn’t extended fully to Real Madrid.

Mind you, they do still have the final of the Copa del Rey to play against Atletico Madrid and if last week’s game against them is any sign then they will probably bring that cup home this season. However, when you look at Mourinho’s track record, you can easily believe that Real Madrid expect more than a couple Copa del Reys, a La Liga title and a Suppacoppa.

His list of accolades demand more. Just take a look.

  • Porto: Primeira Liga (2), Taça de Portugal, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup (Europa League)
  • Chelsea: Premier League (2), FA Cup, League Cup (2)
  • Internazionale: Serie A (2), Coppa Italia, UEFA Champions League

With that in mind, you have to believe that the Special One has failed at Real Madrid. He’s been quoted as being a master at managing his players and a student of the game, but when he got his shot to cement himself as one of, if not the, greatest manager of all time he fell well short of the mark.

Even in a season where Barcelona has looked less than impressive at times in continental play, Real Madrid wasn’t able to keep pace with them in the league and have been pegged into second place well before the mid-way point of the season.

It could be the reason that Mourinho is dropping hints that he is ready to leave Spain’s capital to return to Chelsea where he will have both the transfer kitty of Real Madrid with half the expectations. Roman Abramovich is known to be quick in sacking his managers but surely he won’t do that to the only manager who has brought him success for more than a couple months.

Jose Mourinho will go down as one of the greatest managers of all-time when his career is over but everyone will remember the time he went to Real Madrid and couldn’t produce a Champions League with a massive amount of money and a hugely talented squad that featured one of the top two players in the world.

Beginning of a New Golden Era for Bayern?

I’m aware that it may be jumping the gun to say that Bayern Munich will be at Wembley to play in this season’s Champions League final, but after the 4-0 shellacking they gave Barcelona yesterday, you have to believe that they’ll be making a return appearance to Europe’s biggest final. Couple that with the signing of one of the best young German stars, Mario Götze, and being linked with Robert Lewandowski today, both from their only title rival in Borussia Dortmund and we could be witnessing the birth of Europe’s newest juggernaut.

Jupp Heynckes has done an amazing job in his third stint at the club and has set Pep Guardiola up in a much better position than the one he inherited from Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona — if that’s even possible, as the Blaugrana  weren’t exactly starving for trophies when he got there.

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Mario Götze is set for a move to the Allianz Arena and will likely becoming a key piece of Europe’s new kings.

The amount on talent on Bayern Munich’s squad was clearly evident last night as they made use of their 37% possession with cutting attacks and superb finishing. You can argue that two of their goals shouldn’t have counted for a body check on Jordi Alba and a seemingly missed offside call but they could have easily gone on to score three or four more goals.

David Alaba is on his way to becoming one of the world’s elite fullbacks, Arjen Robben is a man reborn, Javi Martinez is proving that he was worth the trouble to sign him from Athletic Bilbao this past summer and those are just the players I want to tip off now. It doesn’t take a football pundit to know that they are stacked from top to Bayern Munich II.

The arrival of Mario Götze to the Allianz may be the straw that breaks the Bundesliga’s back. It’s the equivalent of Manchester City agreeing to sell Sergio Aguero to Manchester United and it carries the same connotations. Götze was the epitome of what Dortmund stands for. Joining the club at 9, he cut his teeth at the Westfalenstadion and now he’s moving up the big club (no disrespect to Dortmund).

The epic battle between Bayern and Dortmund that people were expecting when Dortmund capped their rise back to prominence with back-to-back Bundesliga titles has already been quashed by Die Roten’s dominating season, winning the league earlier than ever before and the loss of Götze and likely Lewandowski is going to set Dortmund back.

Surely, Bayern isn’t finished spending this summer. Uli Hoeneß‘s tax problems and Financial Fair Play won’t be able to stop this growing storm as long as they continue to reap the benefits of Bundesliga silverware and Champions League final appearances.

That Moment You Realize Barca Has No Chance Against Bayern

Tuesday, Barcelona and Bayern Munich will play the first leg of their semi-final Champions League tie and many are expecting it to be the better of the two semi-final matchups with Borussia Dortmund facing Barca’s rival, Real Madrid, the next day but I’m inclined to believe that the highly anticipated battle between Barca and the Bavarians will be a rout for the German champions.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is looking to repent for missing a penalty in last season's Champions League final.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is looking to repent for missing a penalty in last season’s Champions League final.

Bayern Munich have been on a tear since losing to Arsenal in the return leg of their Round of 16 matchup with the Gunners, scoring a staggering 32 goals in the eight games since — all wins. You know a team is playing on an entirely different level when they reel off nine goals against a mid-table top flight side. Imagine if Manchester United put nine past Michel Vorm and Swansea. People would be calling for Michael Landrup’s head.

However, the reason I believe Bayern outclasses Barcelona has nothing to do with FC Hollywood. No, I think Bayern Munich is better than Barcelona because Barcelona is getting too big for their britches. Their golden era which started under Guardiola and was supposed to continue under Vilanova is going to come to an end. Though, I’m sure they’ll continue to hold court over La Liga unless Real Madrid gets a quality manager to replace the Special One.

But I digress, watching Barca play used to be a thing of beauty as they knocked the ball around the pitch with effortless grace. It was so successful that managers in other countries blow up their own teams to attempt to play in the same vein as the Blaugrana. That being said, you have to remember that Pep himself said the only reason Barcelona used the tiki-taka play style under his guidance was because he won using it.

Now, you can see the cockiness in the way Barca’s players pass. How many times have you seen two players pass between each other multiple times without moving the ball forward, without gaining any advantage? It happens often at the Nou Camp.

It’s becoming ingrained in the fibers of the club all the way down to La Masia — players passing the ball because they feel they have or because they feel their are on a different level than their opponents. Instead of taking the most direct route to the goal, they attempt to walk it in with a myriad of passes that teams are slowly, but surely, learning to combat by simply putting eleven men behind the ball.

Those extra passes, that extra time on the ball is going to be their undoing against a team as clinical and as in form as Bayern Munich.

Besides, Bayern is on a mission. They know they should have won the Champions League last season in their home stadium against the underdog in Chelsea. Now, they are trying to pull of a likely treble as they have already locked up the Bundesliga, will likely win the DFB Pokal and should be the favorite to win the cup with the big ears should they get past Barca.

I understand, it’s hard to choke out the word overrated in the same sentence as Barcelona FC but I think it would do them justice right now. The odds makers have them as favorites, the pundits have them as favorites, but that scary good team from Munich doesn’t have them as favorites.

Pep’s trophy-winning magic might already be rubbing off on Die Roten.

The Beauty of the Away Goal Rule

In the past few days there has been a lot of talk about whether or not the away goal rule should be done away with, but I have to say that I couldn’t disagree more. It’s easy to say you want it gone when it works against your club, but it wouldn’t be so easy to say that if your club benefits from it.

This week, we saw two big games decided by the away goal rule. Arsenal fell to Bayern Munich in the Champions League after beating the Bavarians 2-0 in the Allianz thanks to Bayern’s 3-1 win at the Emirates. Tottenham defeated Inter 4-4 in extra time when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the only away goal of the tie to move on to the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is probably ready to launch a campaign to get rid of the away goal rule after his side crashed out of the Champions League against Bayern Munich due to it.

Arsenal supporters hate the rule right now. Spurs supporters love it.

Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, you have to realize that the away goal rule is essentially necessary to two-legged knockout tournament ties. Without it, the away team would put their entire team within 25 yards of their goal and just play for a nil-nil draw in hopes of getting a goal in the return leg at their stadium.

It encourages the away team to be more aggressive and rewards them if they manage to score while on the road and punishes the home team if they concede.

Certainly, the away team is in the driving seat if they do happen to score and it puts the home team at a disadvantage but all they have to do is go and get a goal in the return fixture and the momentum is right back in their favor.

Naturally, we want to get rid of the rule because Arsenal and Inter (along with many other teams throughout the years) were adversely affected by it but that have no one to blame but themselves. If Arsenal didn’t allow 3 goals against Bayern, they wouldn’t have needed to play they way they did Wednesday. If Inter would have scored at White Hart Lane, they wouldn’t have needed to score 4 goals only to get the boot because they conceded in extra time at home.

Doing away with the away goal rule would just do away with entertaining two-legged ties in competitions.

Three Reasons Why the CONCACAF Champions League is a Failure

Hands up, I was not aware CONCACAF’s Champions League was already in the quarterfinals stage. It pretty much just sprung up on me this morning while I was watching ESPN and they happened to mention that the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to beat a Mexican side in the competition. Kudos to the Sounders, but the novelty was quickly lost on me.

If you are not familiar with the CONCACAF Champions Leauge, here’s the rundown. It’s a 24-team tournament with 4 clubs coming from Mexico and the United States; 2 from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama; and 1 from Canada, Nicaragua and Belize. Three clubs qualify from the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship. The rest is pretty similar to UEFA’s Champion League.

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

That being said, here are five reasons I think the CONCACAF Champions League is a massive failure.

1. There aren’t enough premiere clubs.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Can anyone name 2 clubs from the countries which have two entrants in this competition without looking on Wikipedia or Google? I’m sure there are quality sides in those countries but there’s a reason that only Mexican clubs have won this tournament since it changed to the “Champions League” format in 2008. You’d be better served to cut the tournament down to 8 clubs and jump straight into knockout rounds.

2. The scheduling is poor.

I’m not sure why it is done the way it is, but the competition begins in August which coincides with the beginning of Liga MX’s apertura but comes right in the middle of the MLS’ season. The group stages run until October when there is a five-month break before the knockout rounds begin. It’s hard to keep up with things that are separated by five months. It doesn’t help that one of the two top leagues in the competition, the MLS, does not play for most of those five months.

3. No one cares enough to go to the games.

In the 2012-13 edition of the CONCACAF, there are four teams that have a respectable average attendance — UANL Tigres, Real Salt Lake, CF Monterrey and Houston Dynamo. It’s a crapshoot after that. Six of the clubs averaged fewer than 1,000 fans at their home fixtures. Watching a game in an empty stadium is not entertaining and I could imagine going to a game in an empty stadium isn’t that fun either. Maybe if they said all the games were played behind closed doors, it wouldn’t seem so bad.