Barcelona & Real Madrid must atone for 2012/13 disappointments
La Liga opinion: The Spanish giants have experienced turbulent campaigns
Many have earmarked a changing of the guard in European football as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund of Germany are set to contest a first ever all-German European Cup final.
En route to the showpiece event at Wembley, both overcame the Spanish duo of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the semi-finals to stir debate as to whether there is now a power-shift occurring from Spain to Germany.
There are very strong arguments for it given the manner in which Dortmund and Bayern, in particular, dispatched their Spanish counterparts. They didn't just win, they simply obliterated them in the first legs to set up the aggregate victories - and in Munich's case, they were simply irrepressible over the two legs as they romped to the final with a staggering 7-0 aggregate victory.
Now, whilst the raw results are emphatic and conclusive in favour of the Germans, rumours of a supposed shift in power are indeed greatly exaggerated.
The German media and the influential figures within the German game are cautious in their assessment of the simply astounding events of this season's champions league semi-finals, which could be to hose down expectations so that German football can continue its steady rise with minimal fuss - or they genuinely believe that perhaps the results were a welcome aberration.
One suspects it to be the latter as, in all fairness, Barcelona and Real Madrid have had mitigating circumstances to deal with this season, especially during the crunch semi-final fixtures.
This does not take anything away from Dortmund and Bayern given their comprehensive performances, but it does make rumblings of a power-shift premature. However, Barcelona and Real Madrid have their work cut out to bounce back from relatively disappointing seasons and restore some pride and credibility.
Barcelona have certainly had a mixed season. They have begun life without Pep Guardiola under the leadership of Tito Vilanova and the season started off in outstanding fashion but there remained an uncharacteristic frailty about them.
Spartak Moscow pushed them all the way in the group stages of the Champions League, where the Blaugrana had to come from behind to salvage victory. If that was a lucky escape, then the luck sure ran out when an inspired Celtic claimed a famous 2-1 victory in Glasgow to well and truly end the honeymoon period for Vilanova.
While they benefited from Real Madrid's poor league performances to virtually wrap up the title by Christmas, their record against Los Merengues this is season is the worst in quite a while. The Spanish Super Cup was surrendered at the beginning of the season to Madrid, while at the Nou Camp in La Liga they were held 2-2.
A draw was as good as it got as defeats (2-1) in the league at the Bernabeu and another draw (1-1) in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final clash in Madrid were uncharacteristically below-par performances.
A shocking 3-1 defeat at home in the second leg to their bitter rivals confirms their worst set of results against Madrid in almost five years. A 2-0 defeat to AC Milan at the San Siro in the first leg of their round of 16 champions league tie brought out the best of Lionel Messi as the Catalan giants secured progression to the last eight thanks to their ingenious Argentine talisman.
PSG were gallant in defeat but it took an injured Messi to find the answer as Barcelona escaped into the last four on away goals (3-3), which poured further doubts into their title ambitions.
A defensive crisis ensued as Javier Mascherano and captain Carles Puyol sustained injuries to exacerbate an already paper thin defence and with youngster Marc Bartra being called up to slot into centre half alongside Gerard Pique, Bayern Munich ran amok in their 7-0 demolition job of Barca.
Throughout the campaign Tito was receiving cancer treatment in New York and, therefore, Jordi Roura was deputising throughout the crucial early months of 2013 - and this unwelcome distraction must have played a part in Barcelona's poor performances.
Messi has sustained injuries for the first time since he has established himself as the world's best player, and therefore a Messi-less Barcelona or an injured Messi is not a true reflection of this great Barcelona side.
Winning another La Liga crown softens the damage that has occurred but that cannot suffice for a side boasting some of the world's best players, and with an ambition to one day match and beat Real Madrid's nine European cups.
Their predicament is not as bad as most think. If they can bolster their defence by signing specialist centre-backs, find a better replacement for Victor Valdes and can find a reference point in attack for Messi to work off instead being the reference point himself, Barcelona will have solved their few problems.
After all, they have the world's best player and some of the most creative and dynamic footballers on the planet; they just need to keep them and their manager fit and healthy in order to bounce back next season in search of further glory. Their embarrassing defeat to Bayern is something they must atone for, they owe it to their fans and their proud history.
Contrastingly to Barcelona, Real Madrid have had a very disappointing league campaign but were only perhaps another 10 mins away from snatching a remarkable victory against Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final tie. Having being trounced in Germany, Los Blancos were brave at home in their fightback but eventually fell short.
Their season has been littered with unrest within the camp as Jose Mourinho has alienated himself with several central figures at the club such as the captain Iker Casilias and his deputy Sergio Ramos as Mourinho aimed to assert his authority.
It has backfired spectacularly as the internal unrest has spilled over to the field with the defence of their La Liga crown as good as gone by Christmas. Whilst their Champions League exploits in search of 'La Decima' have been more promising, their controversial win over Manchester United required more than their fair share of luck and fortune where they could have easily been sent packing if not for a refereeing decision.
Defeat at the hands of city-rivals Athletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey final was a sour finish to a dismal and trophy-less season which saw Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo both receive red cards in a spiteful contest.
It has been confirmed by club president Florentino Perez that Mourinho will be leaving Madrid this summer, therefore a delicate rebuilding job is at hand as the club go in search of a record 10th European crown.
Results against rivals Barcelona have been the best in years while the form of star man Ronaldo continues to drive the club to greater heights given his decisive performances in the biggest matches.
Raphael Varane has emerged as a potentially world-class defender this season at the tender age of 20, while the likes of Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil continue to excel as the spine of the Madrid team. Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain have misfired this season but if they or their replacements can start finding the net on a regular basis, Madrid could be back to their prolific and ruthless best.
The season has been an utter failure in many ways. The league was lost without a fight, the cup was taken away from them in their backyard by their local rivals in bitter fashion. Their Champions League campaign ended in the last four for a third consecutive season with a 4-1 first leg defeat proving to be telling in their bout with Borussia Dortmund.
However, the club can wipe the slate clean with the pending arrival of Carlo Ancelotti and with some tweaks and adjustments Madrid can redeem themselves next season. They will have to keep hold of Ronaldo and reinstate skipper Casilias to the first team to regain stability on and off the field.
Ancelotti is a winner and knows how to win the Champions League - he won it twice as a player and guided Milan to three finals in five years with two victories in 2003 and 2007, so he is among the best managers around to lead a team to continental glory.
Their reputation may not have been hit as hard as Barcelona, but their incompetence this season is nothing to be proud of given how expensively the team has been assembled and the amount of quality that is within the team. With some big signings touted, the post-Mourinho Madrid can have a new lease on life, minus the controversy.
As Spain's powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid have to heal some wounds next season as they seek to make amends for an indifferent and largely disappointing season. Their standing as the benchmark of the game in Europe has come under serious attack this season but ultimately their destiny is still in their hands as they fight to regain pride and credibility in Spain and on the continent.
There is no mistaking the fact that they have to correct the wrongs of this season and set the record straight, or else they will indeed leave themselves vulnerable to being overtaken by the rise of German football.
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