6 Things We Learned from Champions League Last 8: Bayern Still the Team to Beat
After four absorbing ties and eight exhilarating games, we are down to the last four in this year’s UEFA Champions League.
Holders Bayern Munich came from behind to book their place in the semi-finals, where they will be joined by Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Real Madrid.
So what have we learned? Read on to find out.
Real Need a Fit Ronaldo
Seemingly cruising after a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the first leg at the Bernabeu, Real coach Carlo Ancelotti’s confidence in his side was so strong that he thought he could leave star man Cristiano Ronaldo out of his starting line-up.
The Portuguese injured his knee in the first leg, but took his place on the bench with Ancelotti exercising caution with his greatest asset.
However, without the reigning World Player of the Year, Real were toothless in attack and nervous in possession, especially playing out from the back. And twice they contributed to their own downfall as Dortmund raced out of the blocks and into a 2-0 lead on the night.
An anxious-looking Ancelotti resisted the urge to throw Ronaldo into the mix to get Real a goal that would give them an aggregate cushion, as the visitors just about managed to hold out for victory. If Real are to have any chance of claiming their first Champions League since 2002, it is clear they will need a fit Ronaldo firing on all guns.
Mourinho’s Still Got That Champions League Feeling
Jose Mourinho’s uninhibited reaction to Demba Ba’s late strike to send Chelsea into the last four was a hark back to the night he announced himself to British football with his touchline run as Porto beat Manchester United at Old Trafford 10 years ago.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg in France last week, Chelsea knew a 2-0 win would be enough to squeeze them past the highly vaunted Paris St Germain. And with the game finely poised at 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate, there was no containing his joy as substitute Ba swept home with just three minutes remaining to send Chelsea through.
However, he also showed a calmness under pressure and a sense of focus as he hauled strikers Ba and Fernando Torres out from under a mound of players to offer them tactical instructions for the few minutes that were left.
For a man who has claimed the title twice with two different clubs, Porto and Inter Milan, and reached the semi-finals in seven of the last 11 seasons, it is clear the hunger and desire remains as strong as ever.
And after failing to get to a Champions League final with Real Madrid, Mourinho knows success with Chelsea would make him the first coach to lift the trophy with three different teams.
Barcelona Have Lost Their Fear Factor
Barcelona’s exit at the quarter-final stage is their worst showing in the competition since their last 16 defeat to Liverpool in 2007, and it suggests that their problems are continuing to grow deeper following the departure of Pep Guardiola in 2012.
Current manager Gerardo Martino has now failed to get the better of Atletico Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone in five attempts this season and currently trails La Liga leaders Atletico by one point with just six games remaining.
Defensively, Barca were exposed time and again by the pace and power of the Madrid attack, and without recognised centre-backs Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol, they looked susceptible every time their hosts broke through.
It is clear that Barca have lost some of the fear factor and sense of invincibility that characterised Guardiola’s teams, and significant rebuilding will be in order this summer, especially at the back.
David Moyes Put Unfair Responsibility on Injured Rooney
Over the two legs against the reigning European champions, David Moyes can hold his head high and say that he and his Manchester United team gave Bayern a fight and certainly gave a much better account of themselves than most critics, and fans, were expecting.
However, despite taking the lead with Patrice Evra’s dramatic strike and holding the German champions at bay for 59 minutes in the Allianz Arena, there was always a feeling that United’s star man Wayne Rooney was not 100 percent as he played through the pain barrier with a toe injury sustained in the first leg.
Rooney’s typical tenacious and busy instinct was clearly tempered by the injury, and he squandered two decent opportunities in the second half when he failed to adjust his feet quickly enough.
Rooney at 100 percent would have made more of the few opportunities that came his way, and Moyes showed a lack of appreciation for the gravity of the injury by asking the striker to drop deeper and play a more box-to-box role with the late introductions of Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj as the visitors chased the game.
Was it the reason United lost the tie? No, but there are few managers who would risk a player, even their best player, if they were not fully fit, especially in the backyard of the all-conquering German and European champions.
Moyes and the United fans will be happy that their troubled side didn’t suffer a 7-0 aggregate humiliation like Bayern inflicted on Barcelona in last year’s semi-finals, but they will probably wonder what might have been if they had 11 fully fit players on the field.
Atletico Madrid Could Break Up Barca and Real Dominance
Atletico’s steady rise to prominence this year has been a breath of fresh air to La Liga and the Champions League, and they remain perfectly poised for the treble with the finish line almost in sight.
Argentine Diego Simeone has orchestrated a remarkable improvement in the club’s fortunes since his arrival in 2011, winning the Europa League and the Copa del Rey while bettering their league placing each year.
The next month will go a long way in deciding whether Simeone and his players have what it takes to displace perennial challengers Barca and Real, but even if they don’t, it is great to see more sustained competition for Spain’s big two.
Bayern Are the Team to Beat
Just in case there was any doubt, Bayern Munich sent out a warning to everyone that they are still the team to beat in this year’s competition.
The reigning champions may have been beaten by Manchester City in the group stages and held by Arsenal in the last round, both at home, but Pep Guardiola set his side up superbly over the two legs to ease through against a dogged Manchester United.
Bayern dominated possession in both legs, a whopping 74 percent at Old Trafford and a more modest 65 percent at the Allianz Arena, and it was only some last-ditch defending and their own profligacy that kept United in the tie.
Despite falling behind in both games, they retained the confidence in their own ability and their attacking ethos and eventually got their reward in both ties.
Driven on by the animated Guardiola, the Germans oozed confidence throughout, and the shot count illustrates their dominance over the two legs, 41 to United’s paltry 12 (6/16 at Old Trafford, 25/6 in the second leg).
Down to the last four, there are no easy teams left, but Bayern is certainly the side the other three will want to avoid, especially in this form.