It is upon us, a clash of the titans: Bayern Munich hosting Barcelona in the 1st leg of their Champions League semifinal tie. The German superclub and Bundesliga champions against the Catalan superclub and La Liga champions-elect. Both of them 4-time European champions (Bayern in 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2001, Barcelona in 1992, 2006, 2009, & 2011). The two great sides of our era, perhaps–with a man who won’t even take part today sitting at the fulcrum between them.
Football too often denies us the truly epic tie, the meeting of the two great sides of the age, and it’s perhaps that more than anything else that makes Tuesday night’s Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Barcelona so enticing.
This has the sense of an era-defining encounter: Barcelona, who have dominated Europe for the past half-decade (it’s a remarkable fact that, even in their sixth successive semi-final, it still feels as though they have not quite achieved what they might have done in the Champions League) and Bayern, who could be the dominant force of the years to come: Pep past against Pep future in a Pep-less present that could mark the transition from one generation to the next. Or could, conceivably, were Barcelona to win convincingly, assert Barça’s hegemony and perhaps even the growth of a new dynasty under Tito Vilanova.
Staying with football’s New Seriousnessists, Zonal Marking’s tactical preview:
Even before Pep Guardiola announced he was moving to Munich in the summer, Bayern had increasingly become based around ball retention. Their 2009/10 side, which reached the final and is still similar to the current starting XI, mixed good ball retention with a counter-attacking threat, but their progress to the final that season was more based around the latter. From the first game of the following season, the 1-0 win over Wolfsburg, their possession play was much more pronounced – it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Germany’s 1-0 defeat to Spain that summer in South Africa, a clear demonstration of proactive football getting the better of reactive football, contributed, considering how many Bayern players played for Germany, and how many Barcelona players played for Spain. Louis van Gaal was also clearly a major factor.
And from the School of Unseriousness, the genius of Barney Ronay shines its light on the historical sweep of this Spain vs Germany set of semifinal ties:
It is tempting to read a great deal into the swaggeringly four-square German-Spanish dominance of this season’s Champions League semi-finals. Football loves a sweeping narrative and in Bayern v Barça and Dortmund v Real there is a sense of certain shared sporting values that go beyond mere geography, a butterfly print of matching elites from which the committed Rorschach theorist might draw all manner of overheated conclusions. But if the significance of such moments of dominance can often be overstated – exhibit one: the unstoppable rise of the Premier League (sell-by date 2011) – there is still a starkness to this semi-final lineup, a sense of a greater historical ascent in play. Something is happening here. But what, exactly?
Perhaps the most striking element of this drift towards a Germano-Iberian duopoly is the feeling not of opposed and contrasting superpowers, but of convergence and consensus, of a fraternal similarity. The dawning of the age of Iberia may have been upon us for some time, but in the Bayern supremacy it finds an answering echo: if Germany and Spain are streets ahead when it comes to player development and tactical coherence, they appear to have skipped off around the corner more or less hand-in-hand.
Read the links in the next hour–and enjoy the match!