The FIFA international rankings are a ludicrous measure of national teams. Brazil sit at something like #19 while England are up to #7. We were #4! That draw against the 600,000 people of Montenegro must really have opened some eyes. Brazil of course, have barely played a competitive game in the run up to the World Cup. But they got one thing right. Spain and Germany are #1 and #2. After watching the Champions League this week, this too could be changing.
Many people will rabbit on about Bayern Munich beating Barcelona on Tuesday. It was indeed impressive but I regard Dortmund’s win over Real Madrid last night as more impressive. The reasons are obvious if you really follow football, something very absent here.
Bayern Munich won because they worked out how to beat Barcelona and did so with ease. These were the same tactics Real use but Bayern have more pinpoint firepower. They exploited their physical advantages, aligned with great technical skill and Barcelona’s obvious weaknesses, weaknesses they have failed to address over the last two years.
Barcelona play a possession game, relying on movement and moving the opposite until the full backs (especially Alves) can overlap and get behind teams. Their midfield, which is their whole attack these days, swarm into spaces overrunning teams. It all helps when you have Messi in the team. Bayern were a little fortunate Messi was just coming back from injury and didn’t quite look up to scratch. But they were in trouble before the game started.
Attack, quick defensive pressure and great organisation are Barcelona’s keys but all season their real weakness has been their defence. Pique looked like a man alone back there on Tuesday. Busquets’ general job is to break up the play (and fall over holding his face) but he plays in the middle. Bayern used their height to isolate Pique and attacked down the wings. Alba and Alves, both very good going forward weren’t up to the numbers or the task. Schweinsteiger (aka pig raiser – great name) and Martinez held the line and won every second ball. The sight of Iniesta on his own goal line for the 4th goal tells its own story. They were overrun. It should be added the third should have been scratched out for obstruction.
I’ll never understand why Villa doesn’t start every game. Not only is he is a great finisher but he leads the line and would give the Bayern centre backs something to think about. But the most glaring hole for Barca is at centre back. Pique must have left that field feeling very frustrated. Without him, the score would have been a horror show. Barcelona need to fill that gap quickly and get a man to lead the line if they don’t trust Villa. When in Bratislava in 2009, I spoke to the hostel owner about his team Barca. I asked why they were selling Eto’o. He didn’t know either. Having Ibrahamovic would have helped last night. But the talk of Barcelona passing the torch is premature. A centre back, a striker and a fit Messi and they will be back.
Dortmund bought Lewandowski from Lech Poznan for 4m beating off (yes they beat him off) the likes of Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn. They’ve built an incredibly hard-working and fluid team. Gotze is about to leave for Bayern but I barely noticed him. I liked Reus, Gundogan, and the centre backs. Apart from their penchant for diving, they’re a team founded and molded on precise attacking play and defensive stubbornness. Real Madrid were blown away but its hard to feel any sympathy for such a club. The defensive tactics of Pepe and Ramos are ugly and guys like Ozil and Benzema are flat track bullies. While Bayern consistently break the German transfer records, Dortmund, the best supported team in Europe with an average attendance of over 80,000, develop their own and pick bargains most notably from Eastern Europe. They are a truly impressive institution. I’ll be rooting for them in the final.