The results of the first-legs of the Champions League semi-finals have sent shockwaves around the footballing world.
While most may have tentatively predicted Spanish success, it was not just the final scores but the overwhelming manner of the German victories that have football pundits and fans alike wondering whether we all haven’t just witnessed a significant moment in the game’s history where the ruling house of one empire may be being usurped by the rise of a new dynasty.
We look at three of the most striking revisions the last two nights’ matches may have afforded the watching world.
The future is fast and furious
Speed on the break has always been a defining hallmark of any great team throughout history. Even the high possession rates of the likes of Barcelona and the total football of Ajax before them had among their arsenal lightning quick counter attacks with which they would just as effectively strike teams as their ability to intricately construct beautiful, defining moments in football.
It can be argued that an increased reliance on physical performance from individual athletes in modern times now places a stronger emphasis on the breakaway. Consider the retention rates from the last two nights of football; Barcelona, typically, had 65% of the ball against a magnificent Bayern, while Real Madrid clocked up 56% in Dortmund. Both teams were away from home – yet both teams suffered heavy defeats.
The pace and directness Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich displayed on both match nights could conceivably signal that the next wave of football relies upon an efficient tactical structure rather than sustained build-up play. It could well be one where players are required to enact highly-organised attacking plays at breakneck speed, exploiting space and time afforded by the opponent that is still finds itself transitioning between attack and defence. Where such attacks do not eventuate in a goal, the same players retreat back into an incredibly organised defensive pattern and work towards the next opportunity by applying great pressure off the ball before launching into their next raid on enemy territory.
In attack or defence, this style means that players are always working hard, and that the game is, as Joachim Low has defined it, as “a short succession of sprints”.
The future must be smart and adaptive
It isn’t all just sprinting around, however, as the two German teams so brilliantly demonstrated. Employing a 4-2-3-1 formation, the ranks of both Bayern and Dortmund were filled with remarkably intelligent footballers who knew not only precisely what their jobs as individuals were, but – and this is of crucial importance – what each other were doing at all times.
There are two immediate advantages that were demonstrated over the last couple of nights. Firstly, fluidity in executing attacks becomes a real feature, enhancing the teams’ effectiveness and leaving a lasting aesthetic impact – these are teams that play marvellous football that is a pleasure to watch as well as being brutally efficient outfits. Secondly, the solidity of the defensive game-plan is assured for the overwhelming majority of the match.
Any professional player should be able to fulfil their duty in this regard, but what was so impressive about the German sides on each occasion was that when a player was committed elsewhere on the pitch, most especially during transitions of play in the midfield, a teammate was able to cover for that player and the integrity of the team’s shape was not breached.
It didn’t matter which individual was doing which job at any given moment during the match, though, of course, each team played to the individual strengths of their playing assets. Instead, it was clear that the overriding attitude of both teams was that the game-plan was a collective responsibility, whereby each man would work for each other as, when and where they were needed. The ability to analyse each successive play so as to adapt to the ebb and flow of the match requires very high levels of footballing intelligence – and Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund proved that they have it in abundance.
The future could be Teutonic
If there are two teams on the entire planet who could potentially overturn such huge first-leg deficits, it is precisely those two Spanish giants who suffered those rather unexpected defeats; however, only the most ardent of their fans would expect this year’s Final at Wembley to now be anything other than an all-German affair.
For the first time since Pep Guardiola took over at Camp Nou, quickly following on from the Spanish conquest of Europe in Austria that same summer in 2008, the Iberian dominance of football may be beginning to wane.
It is no surprise that German football has been the closest threat to Spain’s footballing fiesta in all of that time, and the evidence from this week may suggest that that particular tide may be beginning to turn in a more northerly direction.
The imminent arrival of that same Guardiola as head coach to Bayern Munich in a few short weeks time, coupled with the on-field demolition at the hands of the two German teams, lends significant weight to many prognosticating fans who are already suggesting that German football will be the next dominant force in European competition.
Let’s add to that mix the curious case of the Mario Gotze affair. Leaked a day in advance of Borussia Dortmund’s match against Real Madrid by sources unknown, it was seen by many as having the potential to wreak disaster on the claims of last season’s Bundesliga champions to European dominance. Of course, it must only have served to galvanise the team towards such an aim if last night’s match is any evidence.
However, the confidence and belief of the German Mannschaft, who have huffed and puffed but never quite managed to blow the Spanish house down in their previous meetings of recent years, is another matter, particularly when you consider that the Madrid-Barcelona axis is a largely ageing one and the Dortmund-Munich alliance is hallmarked by an emerging generation of team stars who play for star teams. The future looks to be Teutonic.
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