Bundesliga and Champions League recap (Week of 20-23 April)

With Dortmund having crowned themselves champions for the second time in a row by beating Gladbach, which came in spite of a heavily rotated Bayern side having attained a close away win to Werder Bremen, the Bundesliga is sealed with two games to go, and the only good thing Bayern got from it is a spot in next season’s Champions League.

The team is, since the defeat at the Signal-Iduna Park, focusing on the Champions League, and so have we in our weekly recaps. This weekend, Real Madrid defeated bitter archrivals Barcelona at their own turf, the Camp Nou. Chelsea were held goalless at Emirates Stadium, with a semi-rotated squad ahead of their own visit to Catalunya.

El Clásico: FC Barcelona – Real Madrid

The mother of all games. The derby of derbies. The (allegedly) two best teams in the world (we at FC Bayern Central ardently dispute that claim). The game to decide if the Spanish League was to have a close finale.

It was a series of underlying duels. Cristiano Ronaldo against Lionel Messi. Iker Casillas against Victor Valdés. José Mourinho against Pep Guardiola. But above all, it was Madrid’s final chance to certify that they will be rightful League Champions. Without defeating Barcelona, it wouldn’t have yielded the same sensation, in or outside the dressing room.

As we pointed out in our preview, this game would be decided, partly, by the tactics employed by either manager at kick off. José Mourinho abandoned his experimenting with a “high-pressure trivot”, composed of a three man lower midfield line starring psycopath Pepe as upfront holding man. He instead chose to stick with his 4-2-3-1. As a side note, the starting eleven was, save for the defence, nearly identical to that which took to the field on 29 November 2010, when Madrid were written off by a 5:0 margin. Morunho thus lined up Casillas; Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Coentrao in defence; Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso in defensive midfield; Di María, Özil and Ronaldo in offensive midfield; and Karim Benzema as a striker. He wanted no funny business. His idea was to press Barcelona in a different way: marking every single man with a tendency to attack, so that the Barcelona player with possession would have no choice but to play the ball back in hopes of the defence opening with their possession game.

Except they didn’t.

Guardiola did surprise a bit with his own starting squad: Valdés in goal; Alves, Puyol, Mascherano and Adriano in defence; Xavi, Busquets and Thiago Alcántara in midfield; and Iniesta, Messi and Tello in the vanguard, with Messi runing forward a few more metres than Iniesta and Tello. Pep resurrected his 4-3-3, while choosing Thiago and Tello over Fábregas and Alexis, which earned him some criticism. His ideas were no secret. Play Madrid with vertical football, and have Dani Alves act as a false winger in attack.

It didn’t work. Mourinho’s idea was a success from all points of view. He annulled Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, Barcelona’s Holy Trinity, and with them, the team sank hopelessly. Despite having an abusive amount of possession (73%), Barcelona did not find much clear-cut chances, and the ones they did, they missed stupidly (take Xavi and Tello blowing shots like they were Jagermeister). Madrid were brilliant in defence, and this allowed them to use this foundation to make Barcelona go crazy whenever they attacked themselves. This, added to the overall drop in Barcelona’s performance, got them the opening goal in a rather messy corner kick taken by Özil, headed by Pepe, saved by Valdés (albeit conceding the rebound), poorly controlled by Puyol and pushed to the back of the net by, oddly enough, Khedira. 0:1. from then on, Barcelona were not themselves and panicked. Madrid controlled the game, if not the ball.

Only Alexis Sánchez being subbed in at the 68th gave them spark, however quick-to-die it was. He scored in the first ball he played, taking on a rebound by Casillas, who had saved two shots prior to conceding. The 90,000 crowd at the Camp Nou erupted like the Krakatoa. The story appeared to be close to repeating itself. But then, Cristiano Ronaldo flashed his magic. In a brilliant counterattack manouvre, which has become a trademark of Mourinho’s Madrid, Özil threaded a beautiful through ball to the right of the centre backs, which Ronaldo controlled, and after going into the box, put in the back of the net. His celebration was as arrogant as it was heartfelt. “Calm down”, he said, “I just won the league in your stadium. Shut up now”.

1:2, and a 7-point lead that gives Madrid an inmensely powerful morale boost. Bayern beware.

0:1 – Khedira (17´)
1:1 – Alexis Sánchez (70′)
1:2 – Cristiano Ronaldo (72′)

Arsenal – Chelsea

Chelsea, Barcelona’s Champions League rivals, and, thus far, the holders for the spot in the Final, visited Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, in their continuing struggle to get back in Champions League qualifying zone in the table. Ahead of their visit to the Camp Nou, Roberto Di Matteo had some rotation in his side.

Helined up Petr Cech in goal; Bertrand, Terry, Cahill and Bosingwa in the back; Malouda, Romeu and Essien in the middle; and Kalou, Torres with Sturridge as attackers. Lampard, Drogba (injured), Mata, Cole and Meireles were not lined up, and had some rest prior to the game against Barcelona.

Arséne Wenger had Arsenal try to seal the game quickly, and lined up his gala squad, with Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Gibbs in the back; Ramsey and Song in defensive midfield; Walcott, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the offensive middle and top striker Robin Van Persie.

The game didn’t see much end-to-end action, with the sides sharing control of the game in extended spells. Chelsea had more control of the ball (51%), but didn’t create much danger in front of goal. Arsenal produced 5 shots on target, while Chelsea delivered 3. 14 corners, split evenly, and a total of 24 fouls (13 against Arsenal and 11 against Chelsea), are the numbers of a bad game, which was constantly being stopped and in which neither side rose clearly above the other.

In the end, the goalless draw suits none of the teams, who continue to keep themselves in the fight for qualification for the Champions League next year.

On with the Bundesliga

Dortmund were able to edge out Gladbach and seal the title, keeping their 8-point lead with 6 to be played for. Again they are crowned champions in their own stadium. A 2:0 win against Gladbach, and a second title in succession for them. Perisic (23′) and Kagawa (59′) scored for the yellow idiots.

Meanwhile, Bayern’s opposition next round, Stuttgart, conceded a draw to agonising Cologne in their visit to Podolski’s troupe. Aside from the goals, there wasn’t much action in the game, not even in the fouls department. The man in charged issued only two bookings, both for Stuttgart. Podolski (50′) put his side in front and Cacau (72′) scored the equaliser.