I wasn’t surprised that Real Madrid went through against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals, although I was surprised by the final scoreline.
I strongly fancied Real to progress after they won the first leg 1-0, because they are probably the quickest attacking team in Europe at the moment with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria, and it can be very difficult to play a team of that type when you need to chase a goal.
Still, I thought Bayern Munich let themselves down a bit in that regard—they took too many risks early on and were slightly too open in the first 15 to 30 minutes. The corner they conceded that led to the first goal came off a counter-attack, and suddenly because you are a little bit too adventurous too soon your task is quickly made even harder.
After Sergio Ramos scored his first goal, Bayern needed to score three times to progress, and so they left themselves exposed at the back, and that was duly exploited. Real Madrid were fantastic, though, and they defended especially well—I think their defence sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
When teams score a lot of goals people tend to overlook the defence; Liverpool are a lot better in that regard than I think people believe, and Real are similar. They have very good defenders who play for the national team and are world champions, and they showed why on Tuesday.
They were the better side in every department on the day. Bayern ran out of ideas, just as they did in Madrid.
Obviously, Bayern have to ask questions about their style and approach after this; at the end of the day, it’s about how much you penetrate and how much you create and over the two legs, and do well on either count.
That seems to be a recurring problem against better teams—don’t forget if Manchester United had anything about them, then Bayern could well have been knocked out in the round previous. So the questions have to be asked about Pep Guardiola’s style going forward.
Under Guardiola, Barcelona won the Champions League because they had outstanding players and Lionel Messi, because when you play that way you still need someone who can make the difference in the decisive moments. At this moment, Bayern don’t have that—Franck Ribery too often goes missing on the big stage, and Arjen Robben is too predictable.
Having said that, I don’t think Guardiola needs to change an awful lot, because you must not forget they won the league and have a chance to win the domestic cup this season. You have to put everything in perspective; yes it was disappointing the way they lost, but it was far from a poor season.
Things will also be better next term, because, in my eyes, they are getting the best centre forward in the world in the summer. I don’t think there is anyone in the world better than Robert Lewandowski at the moment. I would have him ahead of Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao, and he will make a huge difference to Guardiola's side.
Lewandowski’s reliable—Costa is a bit of a nutcase in times, getting himself into trouble, being a nuisance—and he does everything well; he can hold the ball up, he’s quick, he can finish, he’s two-footed and technically more gifted than the other two.
This is why I think he’s the best in Europe and will make a huge difference to Bayern. Mario Mandzukic is OK, he works hard and can score, but in Bayern’s history any striker has tended to score goals—Luca Toni, Miroslav Klose, Roy Makaay.
Lewandowski will offer much more than that.
Chelsea punished for being one-dimensional
Chelsea are one of the best teams if they don’t concede, and that’s what they’ve done almost all season. Unfortunately, if you don’t have the capabilities and qualities to change a game once you concede, then you become one-dimensional, and that’s what they are.
I thought the tie with Atletico Madrid always favoured the away team in the second leg, because they are both teams who base their games on defence and, especially after the first leg finished 0-0, you always favour the away team because of the significance of away goals.
That’s how it panned out. Once the first goal went in for Atletico, Chelsea just weren’t able to chase the game and force the issue because they don’t have that style. In the second half, I don’t think any team could play better than Atletico did; the way they kept the ball, the way they controlled the whole of the pitch, their movement and passing, they showed attributes Chelsea just don’t have at the moment.
Chelsea were found out by a better side.
Eden Hazard created headlines afterward after telling French media that the Blues “aren’t setup to play football.” If he said it in his native language, then you have got to think he knew what he was saying.
During my career, sometimes I would say things to my old friends and it wouldn’t get back to England, but these days with social media you can do an interview with a paper in Australia and it will be on the English websites an hour later!
He was probably more disappointed than anything when he said it, but then you’ve got to say he was at fault as much as anyone for the result as he twice left his man. I agree with him, to a certain extent, they don’t play football—which must be frustrating because they have the players to do it.
For some reason, they don’t have the structure. Back in the day they had Claude Makelele to call the shots and dictate play, but at the moment they lack fluidity to their game, either by design or other factors.
I think the players are far better than how they have played this season—not necessarily in results but in terms of style and performances.
Unlike with Bayern and Lewandowski, I don’t necessarily think signing Diego Costa will help, because it’s a deeper-lying issue. Costa will improve them, because he will score more goals, but he won’t change how they play football.
Yes, he’s a better centre-forward than the three they have at the moment, but in terms of playing style, they need to have a look at the whole setup.
In defence, for example, they have a centre-back playing right-back (Ivanovic) and a right-back playing left-back (Azpilicueta) and as good as they have both been, nowadays it is so important your full-backs are comfortable on the ball. They play a huge part in opening the game up.
It's these details that Chelsea need to reconsider.
Why Atletico remind me of an old Rafa Benitez side
I think Atletico showed they what a good all-round team they are; they are not just a defensive side. They were a joy to watch in the second half under tough circumstances, and I think they proved their qualities.
They are where they are on merit.
They are so streetwise, and rarely give an easy chance away—and that can grind teams down because you wonder what you have to do to score a goal. They remind me of Rafa Benitez’s Valencia side in that regard. We played them twice in the group stages of the Champions League in 2002—we were good at that time, but certainly not in their league—and they came to Anfield and we didn’t even have a shot on goal, which basically never happens.
That can really affect you mentally, because you start to wonder if you will ever find a way to create a chance, let alone a goal.
Real Madrid are a side that suits them; Atletico like to play against teams that come at them as Real will. Yes, Real’s attackers are brilliant, but without the suspended Xabi Alonso, I think in centre midfield Atletico will have the edge and that could be crucial.
I fancy Atletico to beat their archrivals and lift the Champions League.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!