Champions League: Real Madrid Will Not Beat Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund
The last eight days may have been among the most important in Jose Mourinho's managerial career.
In this period, his Real Madrid side have faced Barcelona twice and headed to Manchester for a return to the stadium at which he announced his presence to the world with a shocking Porto victory in 2004.
The last week has been The Special One's opportunity to change the way his spell in Spain is remembered. An opportunity to leave Madrid with a positive legacy, rather than one defined by a disappointing final season marred by disputes with players and unexpected losses. (Assuming, of course, that this is his final season.)
Madrid passed the test of the last eight days with flying colours. With three victories, he now has a side on course for the King's Cup Final, second spot in the league (which once looked unlikely) and a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
It is the latter competition that means the most to the Portuguese manager and Los Blancos. Mou is desperate to earn his third Champions League title, equaling the European Cup tally earned by Liverpool's Bob Paisley and making him the first manager to win it with three different teams.
Madrid, meanwhile, have been waiting for their tenth European Cup—known locally as "La Decima"—for ten seasons. If Mourinho delivers it, he will be remembered at the Bernabeu as a hero, and not the arrogant Iberian who once defiantly dropped Iker Casillas to prove a point.
With victory over Sir Alex Ferguson's side, many believe Madrid have overcome their toughest obstacle and can go all the way in the Champions League.
As The Telegraph surmises, the Spanish press are impressed. Marca wrote "La Decima is not just a dream," hailing a week to remember and the character they showed to come from behind and defeat the Red Devils. El Mundo Deportivo thought United's superb performance and tactics made Los Blancos victory all the more impressive. AS praised the oft-impenetrable Diego Lopez and the contributions of Luka Modric.
Real Madrid may be feeling buoyant after such an elated eight days, but sadly there are two reasons why they will not lift the European Cup at Wembley in May. One is Borussia Dortmund, and the other is Bayern Munich.
Like Madrid, reigning Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund have fallen a little flat in domestic competition this season. However, in Europe, they have been utterly resplendent. On Tuesday evening, they stopped Shakhtar Donetsk potentially winning back-to-back European titles in different competitions with a 3-0 victory at the Westfalenstadion.
The Ukrainians have been one of the most in-form teams in Europe this season, having won 18 of their 19 domestic fixtures. They also prevented Champions League holders Chelsea from progressing from Group E on head-to-head record. Yet they were easily swept aside in the second leg, after a hard-fought 2-2 draw at the Donbass Arena in the first.
In his text commentary of the match, The Guardian's Paul Ashdown likened Die Borussen's ball in the quarter-final draw to the "giant stone at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark," as everyone will want to avoid it. Jose Mourinho included.
Madrid will be familiar with the threat posed by Dortmund, having played them twice in Group D. The Spaniards were completely outclassed in the Germans' 2-1 home victory and were only saved from suffering the same scoreline at the Bernabeu thanks to an 89th-minute Mesut Ozil free kick.
It's little surprise that Borussia Dortmund finished top of "The Group of Death," and it's little surprise that Sir Alex Ferguson said they could win the tournament back in November.
Madrid have played Dortmund six times in the Champions League and only beaten them once, in 1998. If they meet again in this campaign, Madrid will need to show much more than the flashes of brilliance they have exhibited thus far.
Yet Die Schwarzgelben may not even be the biggest German threat to Madrid's quest for La Decima.
Los Blancos have met Bayern Munich at the knockout stage of the Champions League five times since the 2000-01 season. The Germans have triumphed three times—including the semi-finals last season—while Madrid have progressed twice, including the quarter-finals of 2001-02 when they won their ninth European Cup.
Die Roten have conceded a single goal in each of their Champions League matches at the Allianz Arena this season, while Real Madrid have scored in a record 16-consecutive away European matches. An away goal would seem like a safe bet, but victory over the formidable Germans is certainly not.
Like Dortmund and fellow Germans Schalke, Bayern Munich topped their Champions League group in this campaign. They scored 15 goals—a tally bettered only by Chelsea—and have displayed form that has made them favourites with the bookies to win the competition for many months. (Although, interestingly, Madrid have become favourites with many bookies today, perhaps as a knee-jerk reaction to last night's victory.)
Jupp Heynckes' side are hungry to reach their third Final in four years, particularly after the heartache of losing the league last season and the Champions League in their own backyard.
Any Champions League opponent would be concerned by the Bavarians' irrepressible domestic form this season. They are 17 points clear of Dortmund at the top, having conceded just eight goals (and only one away from home!). They are undefeated since October and have won every game in 2013, scoring 20 and conceding only once. As Arsenal fans recently learned, at the moment they can turn match-winning intensity on and off like a faucet, as desired.
The evening after Madrid's Copa del Rey triumph last week, Bayern Munich enjoyed their own satisfying domestic cup victory, beating Borussia Dortmund for the first time in six attempts. Bayern fans have waited three years for silverware, and they may be treated to a famous triple this season.
Essentially, the Germans are the teams to avoid in this competition. In this writer's opinion, Madrid will only make it to the Final if they can avoid Borussia and Bayern en route. Once there, a German side will prevent them from lifting the trophy. In fact, if the stars align, we will be treated to a thrilling all-German Champions League Final while Mr. Mourinho prepares to announce his new employer.
The theme of this year's Champions League—and European football in general—is Deutschland über alles. No amount of Mourinho magic can prevent the trophy from heading to Germany in May.
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