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German Giants Go Head To Head In Battle Of Europe

ansgararticleIt is safe to say most of Europe’s and even the world’s eyes will be on a stadium in London on Saturday night. The Champions League final has nearly as big an appeal as the World Cup final. The English FA was happy when Wembley was picked as a host, it was a gesture for their anniversary. The worst case happened, however, when no team from the “Best League In The World” survived the quarter finals. On the other hand, two very different and yet similar teams from Germany made their way to the final. An all-German affair, unlikely as it seemed before this season, will decide the winner.

The favourite seems clear in Bayern München, but their trauma of two lost cup finals last season haunts them even after a truly astonishing league campaign. 92 points after 34 matchdays as well as winning the championship the earliest were just a couple of records the team of coach Jupp Heynckes broke over the course of the season. A little stumble away at BATE Borisov could not hide the fact that the team won their Champions League group comfortably. Things got tense in the 2nd round match-up against Arsenal, but from then on, they left Juventus and Barcelona no chance whatsoever, schooling the Spaniards 7-0 on aggregate to enter the final. 

In goal, Manuel Neuer has not been flawless, when tested, but still had great scenes most times. The defence is very solid with Austrian youngster David Alaba on the left and Philipp Lahm on the right side. The centre back pairing of Jerome Boateng and Dante not only offered no gaps for opposing strikers, but played an important role in distributing the ball forward.

Bayern’s midfield is full of world-class material. Javi Martinez, the defensive midfielder purchased for €40m from Athletic Bilbao, has settled in very well and put his mark on crucial matches in vital interceptions, tackles as well as clever passes. By his side is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who overcame some early injury struggles to dominate the midfield on every pitch. Offensively, due to the injury absence of Toni Kroos, a line-up of Franck Ribery, Thomas Müller and Arjen Robben seems the most likely. All of them are in great form, Ribery and Robben have learned to track back and work defensively as well as shining offensively with combinations and clever runs and dribbles, Müller managed to get 21 goals and 16 assists in all competitions this season, playing either on the right wing, or behind lone striker Mario Mandzukic. The Croatian slotted in perfectly and looked clinical in front of goal.

The options on the bench are looking pretty scary, too. To be fair, due to the repeated injury of Holger Badstuber, the defence is not as well-represented, but Daniel Van Buyten can certainly still do a job in the centre and Diego Contento and Rafinha are capable deputies on the wings. Midfield options are plenty. Xherdan Shaqiri is a brilliant Ribery replacement on the left wing, Luiz Gustavo or Anatoly Tymoshchuk can replace Schweinsteiger or Martinez. Up front, Mario Gomez or Claudio Pizarro can step up, if Mandzukic fails to score.

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Moving from the south of Germany to the west, the colour turns from red and white to yellow and black. Unlike their opponent, Borussia had to overcome the evil spirits that haunted them since the shameful exit on the bottom of their Champions League group last season. This time it seemed more unlikely in the group of death, but six stunning performances against Real Madrid, Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester City won them the group. From then on, Shakhtar Donetsk was pushed aside comfortably, before things could have all stopped 10 minutes before the end of the quarter final 2nd leg, when Malaga went 2-1 up. In a few minutes of magic, Dortmund turned it around to win 3-2 in injury time and meet Real Madrid in the semi final. A jaw-dropping performance saw them beat Madrid at home 4-1, before just about hanging on to an aggregate scoreline as a 0-2 in Spain sealed their ticket to Wembley.

Their squad is obviously not as deep and on a high standard as the one of Bayern, but coach Jürgen Klopp knows how to set them up dangerously. Roman Weidenfeller maybe had his best ever season in goal for his team, looking world-class especially in both legs of the semi final tie against Real Madrid, denying Cristiano Ronaldo on several occasions. The pairing in front of him with Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic is a partnership that has worked well for years now and who can rely on each other. The two full backs Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek have shown how much quality they have and are two examples of how Klopp can improve players. Schmelzer was stuck in the reserves and Piszczek a reject at Hertha Berlin, before they were put into their positions and took off from there.

Sitting on the two defensive midfield positions will most likely be Sven Bender and Ilkay Gündogan. Bender is the workhorse, he constantly runs more than most other Bundesliga players every matchday and puts tackles in where they are needed. Next to him is Gündogan, the nifty midfielder, who had a slow start at Dortmund but now is one of the finest players around. Hunted by clubs like Barcelona, Dortmund hope he will extend his current contract. His vision is similar to the one of Marco Reus, who will play in the middle of the front three. Reus, who came from Mönchengladbach before the season, is one of the reasons why Dortmund are, where they are. On the wings will be Kevin Großkreutz – BVB’s ultra in a football jersey – and Jakub Blaszczykowski. Up front it will be Robert Lewandowski’s task to score the deciding goals, the Pole just missed out on best goal scorer in the Bundesliga falling one goal short of Bayer Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling.

Dortmund’s bench is not as near as threatening as the one from Bayern, Felipe Santana is there in case Hummels is not fully fit, Oliver Kirch could come in as full back, but that is highly unlikely, as well as youngsters Leonardo Bittencourt and Moritz Leitner. Veteran Sebastian Kehl and comeback kid Nuri Sahin could come to join central midfield action. Julian Schieber has mostly looked very unlucky as a striking option, but might come in if Dortmund need goals.

Sadly, the supposedly biggest story of the final will not happen as German international Mario Götze, whose move from Borussia Dortmund to FC Bayern München for a fee of €37m made the biggest headlines before the Champions League semi final 2nd legs, is still injured with a hamstring injury. Götze will sit in the stands during the final, but it will be very interesting to see, how he reacts during and especially after the game, when his current – or future – team has won the biggest club title.

In any case, it will be a fascinating match to watch, especially from a neutral point of view. Both teams started their semi finals with frenetic pace. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will be the case on the big occasion of the final as well. Normally, Bayern should look to control the game and try to be superior, whereas Dortmund’s strength normally is in quick counter attacks with intelligent passes by Gündogan and Reus.

In the end, it will be the often used cliché of the coin toss, that might decide this match. To be fair, I said the same before the Euro final between Spain and Italy, but although I see Bayern as the quite clear favourites, it is in no way decided yet. Even extra time or penalties are not unlikely from my point of view. Being put on the spot, I shall say that Bayern will win it 3-1.

By Ansgar Löcke

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