El Clasico at Wembley? A top-of-the-table Bundesliga battle in Britain?
These are just two of the potential matchups for club football’s centrepiece contest in London next month, and while we won’t know which pair will walk out on the Wembley grass until the completion of the semifinals, we can be assured of a Champions League Final worthy of all the salivating sure to take place between now and then.
Barcelona-Borussia Dortmund would no doubt serve up an entertaining affair, but then Real Madrid would surely love to avenge last season’s semifinal loss against Bayern Munich.
There are six possible finals ahead of Friday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland, after which only four will be possible. But let’s look at each of them while we still have the chance. One, after all, will be what we’re treated to on May 25.
They have combined to win the last four Bundesliga titles, and both have lifted the European Cup before as well—Bayern Munich in 1974, 1976 and 2001; Borrusia Dortmund in 1997.
A Champions League triumph would complete a historic treble for Bayern, while their rivals in the northwest are relying on continental glory to supply their only silverware this season.
Previous meetings in Europe: 2 (1 win for Dortmund; 1 draw)
Key battle: Piszczek and Blaszczykowski vs. Alaba and Ribery. So much of Dortmund’s attacking play comes from their right-sided players, and with Ribery also operating on that flank it would set up a compelling match up that would also draw in Bayern left-back David Alaba.
Forecast: Thomas Muller slips a shrewd pass behind the Dortmund defense for Mario Mandzukic to run onto and turn into goal for the winner.
This is the match up that would seem to promise the most attractive football of the lot.
With Lionel Messi back after a hamstring injury and Dortmund capable of the sort of buildup play we saw against Malaga, the tempo would likely be quick and the chances plenty.
Previous meetings in Europe: 2 (1 win for Barcelona; 1 draw)
Key battle: Pedro and Dani Alves vs. Marcel Schmelzer. You’re not going to neutralize Lionel Messi, but you can reduce Barcelona’s effectiveness out wide. Dani Alves is a vital outlet of supply from the right-hand side, and both he and Pedro would likely be too much for Schmelzer, the Dortmund left-back.
Forecast: Messi sets Wembley ablaze for the second time in three years, scoring twice as Barcelona win a 3-2 thriller.
Bayern ousted Madrid on penalties at the semifinal stage last season, denying the Spanish giants a first Champions League final in a decade.
Madrid are in blistering form at the moment, however, and wouldn’t Jose Mourinho just love to complete La Decima at Wembley, of all places.
Previous meetings in Europe: 20 (11 wins for Bayern; 2 draws)
Key battle: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lukasz Piszczek. Ronaldo has scored 10 Champions League goals going into the semifinals and obliterated Emmanuel Eboue in the previous round.
Forecast: A cagier match than expected goes to penalties, where this time Madrid prevail.
They are the giants of Spain and Germany, and each have been to this stage of the competition in each of the previous three installments.
The comparison ends there, however, as Bayern have lost two Champions League finals in the last three seasons while Barcelona have won two of the past four.
Previous meetings in Europe: 6 (3 wins for Bayern; 2 draws)
Key battle: Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Xavi. This is, perhaps, the most mouth-watering of any of the potential, individual matchups. Schweinsteiger would not only be looking to contain Xavi, but he’d be looking to create chances for his attacking teammates as well.
Forecast: Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez manage to neutralize Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and while Messi finds the back of the net in the final minutes. But it’s too little, too late as goals from Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller had Bayern 2-0 ahead through much of the encounter.
They met twice during the Group Stage—Borussia Dortmund winning 2-1 at home and earning a 2-2 draw in Spain.
Both will also finish runners-up in their domestic leagues this season, which means only one would take home a major honour if they were to meet in the final.
Previous meetings in Europe: 6 (2 wins for Madrid; 3 draws)
Key battle: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lukasz Piszczek. This would seem to be a matchup Ronaldo could win—and winning it would also mean Dortmund would be deprived of their most useful side of the park.
Forecast: A torrid pace and atrocious defending combine for an entertaining, high-scoring affair in which Madrid prevails thanks to a Ronaldo brace.
El Clasico at Wembley.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are existential rivals, but a meeting in the Champions League final would add another layer to an already reckless hate.
Theirs is the most high-profile enmity in club football, and it only seems appropriate that, one day, it is given the most high-profile stage on which to play out.
Previous meetings in Europe: 8 (3 wins for Madrid; 3 draws)
Key battle: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Dani Alves. The Barcelona man is one of the few right-backs who can actually hold his own against the Portugal captain, although Ronaldo’s goalscoring record in Clasico matches is exceptional—even better than Messi’s.
Forecast: Lionel Messi accepts Iniesta’s pass and skips between Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos between lobbing the ball over Diego Lopez and into the back of the net for a late winner.