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Bayern & Barca Come Up Trumps, But Results Don’t Tell The Whole Story

As the dust settles on the plateau of this weeks Champions League action, the knockout stages of the tournament are up and rolling, with no outrageous surprises results-wise, but as always, there’s no shortage of incidents for fans & pundits to discuss.

Bayern & Barca Come Up Trumps, But Results Don’t Tell The Whole Story

From an English (Premier League) perspective, Arsenal and Manchester City were pitted against the might of Bayern Munich & Barcelona respectively. Bayern, the reigning Champions of Europe are currently (probably rightly) favourites to win this years competition & achieve the accolade that as of yet has eluded any club, of winning back-to-back consecutive Champions League titles.

Barcelona, now under the reign of Argentine coach Gerardo Daniel ‘Tata’ Martino are seen by many as very legitimate challengers to wrestle the Trophy from the hands of this impressive Bayern outfit, but had the non too trivial matter of a 1st-leg clash with a free-scoring Man City side, who not only boast an array of
Galáctico style talent, but a truly formidable home record.

Rather than give specific in-depth analysis of the games and subsequent results or pontificate over two key incidents (both Arsenal & Man City had a man sent off), I think it’s telling that in-spite of both Premier League clubs suffering home defeats (both losing 0 -2), both Wenger & Pellegrini’s men achieved the unusual feat of rattling the cages of their all conquering opponents.

Bayern don’t need me or anyone else to sing their praises, their football does and has done all the talking this season, very loud & eloquently. The same to a good degree can be said about Catalan giants Barca. Comparisons continue, with both teams topping their respective leagues. Whilst Barcelona sit a-top of La Liga, all be it by virtue of superior goal-difference to their fierce rivals Real Madrid, Bayern are absolutely tearing up the Bundesliga this campaign, topping their league and sit a pretty 16 points clear of nearest challengers Bayer Leverkusen.

Suffice to say, any team looking to pit their wits in the theatre of conflict against either of this pair of bastions of the game can expect to have their hands full. Whilst it came to pass that both Bayern & Barca aced Arsenal & City by 2 goals to nil, the results don’t fully tell the story of what two very interesting evenings of football. Naturally, the results are all that matters, especially in a knockout competition.

There’s a reason that both Bayern & Barca are seen as favourites for this competition, whilst evidence for this was at times very visible against two of England’s finest, there is certainly room for discussion that neither outfit is invincible.

It was a fairly tight affair at Eastlands (Manchester), with Barca playing their now famed pressing style & displaying their customary individual and collective technical brilliance. City however stuck to the task of being disciplined and look to take advantage of Barcelona’s supposed weakness, the centre of their defence. Unfortunately for the Citizens, their task was made all the more problematic when Argentinian Martín Demichelis brought down compatriot & fellow countryman Lionel Messi when through on goal. Referee Jonas Eriksson awarded a penalty & gave Señor Demichelis his marching orders. Messi tucked the penalty away and Man City faced an uphill task of trying to contain a Barcelona side buoyed on by the prospect of adding to the scoreline & make the most of their numerical advantage. The script was set for the Catalan Giants to up the gears & make an example of their opponents. But on the contrary, City didn’t get this script and against the odds, performed admirably, putting Barcelona under pressure for periods and making light of their 10-against-11 situation were very much holding their own against the Spanish Champions. Unfortunately as the game reached it’s conclusion, with the score still at one nil, Barce rightback Daniel Alves stole a march on the City defence & slotted an astute finish
through the legs of City keeper Joe Hart. Barcelona took the win, the 2 goals & the plaudits back with them to Barcelona.

It would be churlish to claim that Barca weren’t worthy of the win, but against the 10 men of Man City, you could argue that 2 nil was harsh on the Mancunians.

The following night in North London, Arsenal hosted the rampant Bayern Munich. Munich, as is their want under new coach Pep Guardiola, traditionally press the play, much like Barcelona. Not only are they experts of this style, but they’re as well drilled a unit in the art of the pressing game as you’re likely to have the opportunity to see. As the touch-paper was lit & the whistle blown to kick off proceedings on a damp North London night, it quickly became clear that Arsenal didn’t get the memo. Arsenal themselves pressed the play & for some 25/30 minutes the bullies became bullied!

Arsenal, who were awarded a penalty in the 8th minute, which Mesut Özil then conspired to allow German international goalkeeper & childhood friend Manuel Neuer save his rather tame effort of a spot kick. Bayern were visibly jaded by Arsenal’s rambunctious start and a collective sigh of relief reverberated through the Munich psyche. Arsenal had in effect let the big red Bavarian machine off the hook.

Things were to get worse for the Londoners as fate dealt Wenger’s men a savage blow when in-form Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny was judged to have impeded Bayern’s flying Dutchman Arjen Robben, who, true to form leapt in the air as though he’d trod on a plug before throwing himself to the floor. To the letter of the law the ref had to give a penalty & the debate was to get all the more colourful as the Polish stopper was banished to the stands by means of a red card. Much to everyone’s surprise & Arsenal’s fortune, the penalty did not result in a goal as Austrian leftback David Alaba hit the post & Arsenal were themselves let of the hook.

It was then a case of Arsenal trying to contain Bayern, a feat that’s daunting enough with 11-vs-11. Inevitably the Germans saw a lot more possession and posed an offensive threat. The wind had somewhat been taken out of Arsenal’s sails, but admirably, the Gunners defended fairly admirably. For all their effort, the 10 against 11 situation proved a bridge too far. Much like the Man City Barcelona game, over the 90 minutes you’d be short-sighted to deny the 11 men of Munich the title of being the better team on the night. But you could be accused of being equally short-sighted if you wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that Arsenal had Bayern, Europes form team, on the rack & were arguably the better team prior to having a man sent off.

The results are what matters, unless you’re a fan of the plucky resolute 10-man Man City or Arsenal sides & the history books will read
that both English sided were defeated on home soil by two goals to nil. Scratching beneath the surface, there are crumbs of comfort for fans of both Premier League teams.

What is a point of interest, is that both Barca & Bayern especially are smashing their way through their respective domestic leagues. But faced with opposition who arguably would be considered at a higher level than a fair percentage of opponents they’d face domestically, they had their cages well & truly rattled at times. Of course many will suggest (possibly correctly) that had City or Arsenal kept 11 men on the field, the results may well have ended more in their favour. But had our aunts have had dangly bits, they’d be our uncles!

Whilst both the Premier League teams now face uphill and some may say impossible tasks of going to Spain & Germany to overturn a 2 goal deficit, there is room for some optimism, not just for Man City & Arsenal, but future opponents of the might Barca & Bayern. If teams set out with the mentality that they’re not a mid-table La Liga or Bundesliga outfit on-site for a tonking and are in fact something like equals, there’s room to get at these phantom giants of the game.



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