Armchair Pundit

Bayern to upset Madrid and Barcelona

Alex Chick

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With the Champions League final four set, let's take a look at the contenders before offering a tentative prediction.

BARCELONA (Odds: 10/11)

We know all about Barcelona's good points, their world-class players and their impeccable recent record in the Champions League.

They are strong favourites for a good reason. But unbeatable? Certainly not.

Let's not forget they are six points adrift in the Spanish title race thanks to iffy away form (only eight wins and 26 goals in 15 games compared with Real's 12 wins and 40 goals).

And keep in mind that after 130 minutes of their tie against Milan they were behind on away goals.

Yes, they outplayed Milan, but they needed some assistance for all three goals. 1-A horrible Mexes blunder and Antonini lunge; 2-A penalty decision for a foul many refs would have ignored; 3-A kind ricochet to Andres Iniesta.

On Wednesday morning Early Doors compared Barcelona to Roger Federer, and occasionally they, like Federer, become so absorbed in the beauty of their own game they sometimes lose sight of why they are playing - namely, to win.

Should Barca take care of business against Chelsea, they might just be rooting for their arch-rivals Real Madrid to win the other semi-final - they have lost to Real only once in 14 games.

Bayern Munich, with their devastating counter-attacks and stellar wingers who might actually force Barca's full-backs to do some defending, are a nightmare match-up for Pep Guardiola's side, plus they would have home advantage.

In a word: Majestic

In another word: Narcissistic

REAL MADRID (Odds: 5/2)

The table says Real are the best team in Spain - almost every meeting with Barcelona suggests otherwise.

For all their talent and goalscoring prowess (150 in all competitions this season), Real still retain the image of slightly chippy underdogs.

Take Jose Mourinho's post-match dig at Barca, whom he has repeatedly alleged referees favour:

"Let me be honest, I don't think there will be a Real Madrid-Chelsea final. I don't think. I prefer to say only this. I don't think it will be Real v Chelsea. It could be Bayern or Barcelona I just don't think it will be Real Madrid v Chelsea and we know why."

If he is trying to play mind games, they haven't worked yet - as one win in 10 Clasicos indicates.

But the media's Barca obsession can obscure the brilliance of Mourinho's outfit. Cristiano Ronaldo is a goalscoring phenomenon, Karim Benzema is blossoming into a striker of the highest order, Mesut Ozil is good enough to keep Kaka on the bench, and Iker Casillas is probably the world's best goalkeeper.

Mourinho thrives on European football's showpiece occasions, and it is easy to imagine him successfully negotiating a route past Bayern.

In a word: Relentless

In another word: Paranoid


It has been a weird old season for FC Hollywood. This time last month they were facing a first-leg deficit against Basel, and had just suffered a loss to Bayer Leverkusen that appeared to knock them out of the Bundesliga title race.

Their response? An unholy avalanche of goals, slamming 20 past Hoffenheim, Basel and Hertha Berlin in consecutive games.

Including a penalty shootout in the Cup, they have won eight straight since that Leverkusen defeat, and represent a supremely dangerous wildcard, and would certainly be the best-equipped to upset Barcelona in the final.

Bayern's surge in form owes much to perhaps the two best wingers in world football - Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Streaky and injury-prone they may be, but when on song both are close to unstoppable. The team's progress relies on the pair's continued form and fitness.

Up front lurks the inexplicably unfashionable Mario Gomez, who has been sticking away goals like Gerd Mueller minus the luxuriant mane and low centre of gravity - 76 strikes since the start of last season.

The stakes could barely be higher for Jupp Heynckes, who could yet end the season with an open-top bus parade or the sack.

It is over a decade since Bayern last won the Champions League, and the final is at their Allianz Arena home. The stage is set.

In a word: Potent

In another word: Fragile

CHELSEA (Odds: 10/1)

Amid a shambolic Premier League campaign, Chelsea have squirmed into the last four without ever truly convincing.

Since taking over as interim manager, Roberto Di Matteo has taken the only realistic option available, restoring the senior players whose conflict with Andre Villas-Boas spelt the end of the Portuguese.

If that means suffering the indignity of John Terry bellowing instructions from the bench and offering condescending messages of support, so be it.

After a fine 1-0 win in Lisbon, they were made very uncomfortable by Benfica at Stamford Bridge before the dismissal of Maxi Pereira by card-happy Damir Skomina eased their passage.

Di Matteo will look to his veterans to exact revenge against a Barcelona side whose controversial semi-final win in 2009 still rankles - expect to see roughly 50,000 replays of Didier Drogba bellowing expletives into a TV camera between now and the first leg.

Whether the likes of Drogba and Frank Lampard can continue to produce stirring performances in defiance of their ageing limbs remains to be seen, but Barcelona will certainly not relish a physical and emotionally-charged semi-final.

In a word: Defiant

In another word: Creaking


Semi-finals: Barcelona to beat Chelsea; Bayern Munich to beat Real Madrid

Final: Bayern Munich to beat Barcelona.

First of all, let's just acknowledge that Barcelona have the greatest statistical chance of winning the tournament. Yet there is just something about Bayern I just cannot ignore.

They are set up so perfectly to hurt Barcelona, to soak up pressure and hit them with lightning breaks down the flanks, they have much the best chance of upsetting the favourites.

Of course, they have to negotiate a barnstorming Real Madrid side first, but such is the incisiveness of their wing play that, supported by a stable defensive unit, I fancy they just might do it.

Twitter - @alexchick81

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