When we cast our eyes back to the beginning of the 2012/13 season most can recall putting Bayern Munich and Barcelona in their first few picks for Champions League success. These two European powerhouses had earn’t the right to be spoken of in such esteem. Their prowess both domestically and in European competition over the past decade speaks for itself. Barcelona has been led by the wizardry of Lionel Messi and the craftsmanship of both Iniesta and Hernandez, culminating in numerous domestic titles and cup victories along with success twice on Europe’s elite stage. Munich have class scattered all over the park.
Led beautifully by Bastian Schwiensteiger and with the polish of Ribery and Robben, the Bavarian giants have fallen at the last hurdle in two of the last four finals but this season have asserted a dominance rarely seen in Europe. Joining them in European elite have been their noisy neighbours from Dortmund. The Yellow Submarine rose to superiority in the Bundesliga for the past two seasons and this year announced themselves on the biggest of stages. Consistency at the back and brilliance in the front third saw Borrusia Dortmund edge past Real Madrid in the semi finals … could their dream run continue at Wembley tomorrow night with a victory over their biggest of rivals?
Qualifying out of the group of death in this year’s Champions League (consisting of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax), the German club have grown on the confidence of back-to-back domestic titles. Managed brilliantly by Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund derived a system which played best to their strengths and a system that would hold up in Europe. Leading the line has been Polish international Robert Lewandowski. The big centre-forward has been on the radar of some of the world’s biggest clubs for the last 24-months and his four-goal performance against Madrid only emphasised his talents and value. But will we see Borussia Dortmund falling victims to their own success?
Already they have lost young playmaker Mario Gotze to Munich for next season and Lewandowski, as we all know, will play his last game for the club tomorrow. So when using Dortmund in the discussion of the power shift from Spain to Germany one must mention the calibre of players they are to lose. The money from these two transfers will give the Dortmund hierarchy a say in the upcoming window, but losing two players whom you’ve conjured a system around will be nigh-on impossible to replace. Juxtaposed to this, Barcelona have an uncanny ability to retain their talent. None of their upper echelon of players will leave the Catalan club and they will be buying.
In my opinion, unless Barcelona sure up their defence they won’t be as difficult an opponent in the next European campaign. They will finish in the top two in La Liga but we’re all too familiar with the two-tier Spanish League and Barcelona will continue to be measured on their performances against Europe’s best. It was still a successful season for Barcelona having wrapped up the league months ago and making it to the semi-finals of the ECL, but it was the manner of their defeat to Bayern that raises the question of substantial power shift in world football.
Over the two legs Barcelona met a determined and efficient Bayern Munich. They held onto possession as they so often do, but their defensive frailties were exposed as the makeshift pair of Mascherano and Pique were not able to cope with the counter attacking play of Ribery, Robben and Muller. The 4-0 result was a shock and Bayern continued to assert a dominance over Barcelona we hadn’t seen in years, which culminated in a 7-0 aggregate scoreline. The ageing Puyol and the inconsistent Pique mean that Barca really need an experienced head in the centre of defence. They have been linked with Mats Hummels of Dortmund along with Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, and one of their signatures is imperative if they wish to compete with Bayern and others next season.
The previous two seasons have come at a great disappointment to all those concerned with Bayern Munich. Surrendering two consecutive Bundesliga titles to Dortmund was compounded further by the shock defeat to Chelsea in last years Champions League final – played at home ground the Allianz Arena. The Bavarians were all set for days of celebrations thinking a win against the inconsistent Chelsea on their own turf was all but assured. Anger ensued as just weeks earlier the German giants were on path to an unheralded Triple Crown only to complete the season trophy-less. Their disappointment turned into a steely resolve over the off season, and Munich are now two victories away from remedying last years failures (Bayern play Stuttgart in the German Cup Final on the 1st of June). They stole the Bundesliga crown from Dortmund setting a whole new standard in German football. So are we set to see a dynasty in Munich? It’s hard to argue against it. With Pep Guardiola at he helm for next season and with more summer signings to come it’s hard to see any slip in standards. There is an explosive group of young talent in Kroos, Alaba, Mandzukic and the newly signed Gotze, which compliments the experienced heads of Lahm, Schwiensteiger, Robben and record German League signing Javi Martinez. If Bayern add two more trophies to the cabinet this season (and smart money says they will), I can see that propel them into their own class for next season.
For mine, it’s not necessarily a power shift from Spain to Germany that we are seeing … it’s more of a new world order. Bayern Munich will have the best squad in Europe next season and will be be building on it’s 2013 momentum. It is funny, however, that when talking of transitions in power we are using teams within a league as basis for our discussion. Still at this moment the Barclays Premier League is the most competitive of all European domestic competitions and isn’t it strength in a league that determines power? Sure, the Manchester clubs had a poor run in the Champions League but don’t expect a repeat of that next campaign. It too was English teams that dominated the final stages of the Europa League with Chelsea eventually securing a nail biting victory over Benfica. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see English teams in both European finals next season. Maybe then can they enter the discussion of world football power.
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This article was first posted on May 25, 2013