The Top 10 Matchups We'd Love to See in the 2013 Champions League Final
May 25th, 2013 is a long time away.
That doesn't stop us from dreaming, does it? Every year, we spend so much time thinking about which two teams we'd love to see in the showpiece final of the most important tournament in Europe.
Here's a look at the 10 matchups that would provide the greatest spectacles.
(These are one man's opinions. I'm sure each of you has his own dream final, and I'm sorry if I didn't include it.)
10. Chelsea vs. Real Madrid: What Could Have Been? Probably Not
The matchup that one dagger of a Bastian Schweinsteiger penalty kick deprived us of last season. Ah, the cruelty of football.
Of course, if these two played in the final this season, it would be a very different game than it would be at the Allianz Arena. Chelsea were barely able to play Bayern in a straight-up open game of football. Can you imagine how they’d have to play to prevent the ruthless finishers of the Spanish side from beating them silly?
This year, however, Chelsea can play pretty much any team in Europe on even terms. Juan Mata is a rising prodigy, Oscar may be the best Brazilian player in the world not named Neymar, some guy called Fernando Torres is in pretty good form and, of course, they have the man dubbed the next Cristiano Ronaldo in Eden Hazard. It would be interesting to see how he matches up against the real deal.
More importantly, it would be riveting to see what kind of reception Jose Mourinho gets from the Chelsea fans. Many would expect a rapturous applause, but if Roberto di Matteo can mimic last season’s magic, the Blues may all but forget about their former hero.
9. AC Milan vs. PSG: Will Ibrahimovic and Silva Regret Their Decisions?
Honestly, I feel AC Milan has less of a chance of making the Champions League Final than the Charlotte Bobcats have of trading for LeBron James.
But remember, the departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris were arguably the biggest transfers of the summer. If I am a member of the AC Milan squad, I’m practically seething right now. For your two best players to just pick up from a title-winning squad and leave you in a right mess has to strike a chord or two.
There’s very little hope for Milan making the final, at least this year, but if they somehow do, it would be intriguing to witness Silva's and Ibrahimovic’s feelings toward their old club.
8. Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea: Redemption for the Germans?
Rematches are always fun, wouldn’t you say?
Again, this would be a rematch in name only. Both teams have undergone radical changes since that memorable night in Munich.
Chelsea have transformed from a defensive, counterattacking side to arguably the most free-flowing and attacking team in the Premier League.
Munich have strengthened their midfield greatly with Javi Martinez and Xherdan Shaqiri, and they have added the expert poacher, Mario Mandzukic, to compensate for the sudden lapses that Mario Gomez suffers, as he did against Chelsea, costing them the title.
More interestingly, can Chelsea beat Munich again without the Man of the Match in Munich, Didier Drogba? In fact, is there a chance that Drogba is back on the roster by January, considering his problems with the Chinese? More on this later.
7. PSG vs. Manchester City: Oil Classico
Or maybe we could call this one the Abu Dhabi derby?
Either way, it would be one hell of a football match. I don’t care how these teams built their teams, as any time you have a match that puts Joe Hart, Thiago Silva, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Javier Pastore, David Silva, Lucas Moura, Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Sergio Aguero and, of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the same pitch together, everything else is purely circumstantial.
This would probably be one of the most star-studded matches in history. How often do you see someone like Carlos Tevez being not even a top-eight player on the pitch?
What’s more, if these two teams met at Wembley, you could guarantee that the losing Sheikh would have his checkbook out by the end of the match, plotting to add Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to his squad.
That last sentence was a joke. I hope.
6. Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal: The 2 Teams That Do It Right
While so many big spending-teams abound, like the previously mentioned PSG and Manchester City, it would be refreshing to witness arguably the only two teams that refuse to bolster their squad by signing big names stand above all others.
Of course, these teams did meet last year in the Champions League group stage. However, Dortmund had not rounded into the form that saw them break the Bundesliga points record, and Arsenal had not yet adjusted properly to life without Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
It’s unlikely, but I for one would be thrilled to see the Bundesliga champions and the London club bring their philosophies to Wembley.
5. Bayern Munich vs. Juventus: Déjà Vu from Poland
- Italy's 2-1 victory over Germany in the Euro 2012 semifinals was the match of the tournament. You can’t argue with that. Everyone expected the German armada of skillful forwards to come out and bury the Italians, but it was, rather unexpectedly, Mario Balotelli who shined the brightest that night, scoring twice, with the second being an absolute screamer. Why always him? We’ll never know.
- Five of the Italians starting that night played for Juventus: Andrea Barzagli, Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chielleni, Gianluigi Buffon and, of course, the best player in the tournament, Andrea Pirlo.
- Seven of the Germans who started against Italy played for Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer, Philip Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez.
- Italy is in Germany’s head. The former has never beaten the latter in a major tournament. Yes, I know this is club football, but don’t you think this is relevant considering all that I just noted above? Can you imagine the weight on the heads of some of the Munich players to atone for that shocking defeat?
Leave alone the fact that these two teams are the champions-elect of their respective leagues and have won a combined 50 national league titles between them. Consider the following things:
If Mario Balotelli played for Juventus, this would jump at least two spots. Alas, it can’t always be him.
4. Manchester United vs. Manchester City: The Winner Gets the City
The biggest rivalry in England, on the biggest stage in the world? Yes please.
United really haven’t atoned properly for the now iconic 6-1 disaster last year. The 3-2 win in the FA Cup this January doesn’t really count, especially considering they lost to Liverpool in the next round and City went on to beat them again in a title-clinching match.
I’m pretty sure that if the two best teams in England faced off in the Champions League Final, both sets of fans and players would be out for blood.
United would want true revenge, and City would be looking to eliminate the noisy neighbour tag for good.
Whoever prevails, it would be a sumptuous spectacle.
3. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Can We Say Anything Else?
- These two teams have played each other an astounding 13 times in the last 22 months. That’s an average of one Clasico almost every two months. I’m glad to see these two titans slug it out so often, but one must admit, the same matchups again and again get a bit stale. We know all the subplots, we know all about the tension, we know all about the players. The only suspense is who the winner will be.
- In some matches, the quality of the football in El Clasico can be a bit lower than expected. Of course, every now and then we will get a gem, like Barcelona’s 3-1 win at the Bernabeu last year, or Real’s 2-1, title-clinching victory in the reverse fixture. But at times the game is a bit too tense for a viewer’s liking. Both teams are afraid to make mistakes, so sometimes Barcelona is happy to pass the ball around away from the front line, and Real are content to sit back and soak up "pressure." This produces cagey football that doesn’t live up to the greatness of these teams.
These are the two best teams in the world. There is no arguing that.
The only reasons I can’t place this one higher are:
Actually, what am I saying? This is El Clasico. If these two teams play in the final, as a deeply loyal Madridista, you won’t hear me complaining one bit. It’s just that, from a neutral perspective, the next two matches may be even more absorbing.
2. Chelsea vs. Barcelona: The Rubber Match
This is the only tie that takes place between two countries from different leagues that can actually be called a rivalry.
Everything about these two teams are polar opposites.
Barcelona breeds most of its players in the La Masia youth academy; most of Chelsea’s team are expensive signings.
Barcelona plays possession-oriented, passing football, while most of Chelsea’s success is predicated on organized defending and quick counter attacks.
Barcelona has won 21 league titles and three Champions League titles in 83 years; Chelsea has been relevant on the big stage only since the Abrahamovich takeover in 2003.
This all came to a head in 2009 and this year’s semifinal. The previous one was ended in stunning fashion at Stamford Bridge, with Andres Iniesta’s rocket winner breaking the hearts of many Blues. We all know what happened in April.
So it’s Chelsea 1, Barcelona 1, in their current forms. We need a tiebreaker. Where better than the biggest football match in the world?
More importantly, it will be essential that Didier Drogba re-signs with Chelsea in the January transfer window for these two teams to generate the kind of spectacle they always have.
He has been prominently involved in both ties, from his sharp-tongued explosion in 2009 to the magnificent goal he scored at the Bridge five months ago.
If Chelsea and Barcelona play again this year, and Drogba is not on the pitch at the time, it will be, in Didier's own words, a 'beeping disgrace.'
1. Manchester United vs. Real Madrid: It’s About Time
Fact: Cristiano Ronaldo has only set foot once on English soil for a football match after leaving Manchester United.
Fact: The transfer of Ronaldo from United to Madrid is arguably the most important transfer since Ronaldinho joined Barcelona from PSG.
Fact: Real Madrid and Manchester United are the two most popular, successful and well-known clubs in the world, whichever way you cut it.
Fact: A match between these two teams would feature Iker Casillas, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric Mesut Ozil, Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ricardo Kaka, Karim Benzema and Robin van Persie on the same pitch together.
Fact: Jose Mourinho is rumoured to be the heavy favourite to take up the United managerial job once Sir Alex Ferguson retires.
Fact: These two teams have only played four official ties in their histories.
Fact: The last one was in 2003, with Real winning 6-5 on aggregate. In the second leg at Old Trafford, Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, Giggs, Van Nistleroy, Ferdinand and Casillas were all on the pitch together, and United eked out a 4-3 thriller, with Ronaldo scoring a hat trick for the Spaniards.
Fact: It’s about damn time we saw these two teams play again.
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