Pitchside

Death of the ‘Super Coach’, Hazard flirting with PSG?

Pitchside

So it will be an all-Madrid Champions League final in Lisbon on May 24 as big-name coaches Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho endured semi-finals to forget on home turf this week. Here is what caught our eye from two intriguing semi-finals....

Bad week for the big coaches:

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As Madrid celebrates an all-Spanish Champions League final, it was clear that the big decisions did not go the way of the big coaches this week. In Munich, Pep Guardiola needs to win the German Cup final to call his first season a proper success, given that the title was a minimum requirement.

That he has been without Thiago Alcantara for the crucial part of the season has not helped, but his decision to drop Javi Martinez for the start of the second leg looked flawed. His attacking formation left too many gaps for Real Madrid and by the time Sergio Ramos headed Madrid ahead, Bayern already looked physically and emotionally rattled. They were only a goal down after the first leg - why did Guardiola feel the need to rush the response?

The same was true of Jose Mourinho, whose call to pick Cesar Azpilicueta as the right-sided attacking midfielder looked vindicated when he set up Torres for the opener. But for those expecting him to keep it tight at 1-1 and go for a winner late on, as he did with success in the previous round against PSG, he pulled a surprise: taking off Ashley Cole and bringing on Samuel Eto’o only five minutes into the second half. It was Eto’o who gave away the penalty (not Mourinho’s fault) that put Atletico ahead. it doesn't happen very often, but they were two big calls, which the two big coaches got wrong.

Is Eden Hazard flirting again?

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The manner of Chelsea’s defeat may have come as a surprise, but Jose Mourinho was humble and generous following the elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid. He admitted that Atletico were the better side and refused to admit whether John Terry had played with an injury (it looked like he had). He also did not criticise his players in public, which might be just as well for Eden Hazard, who was caught napping on two goals, when Tiago floated cross-field balls over Hazard to the overlapping Juanfran to centre for Adrian Lopez (first goal) and Arda Turan (third goal).

Instead, it was Hazard whose post-match comments caused waves. Hazard told French TV station BeInSport that, “Chelsea is not set up to play football, but to play counter-attack - a bit like Real Madrid were against Bayern Munich”. For a player publicly coveted by Paris Saint-Germain, a club with the same Qatari owners as BeIn, that could be construed as critical of Mourinho’s tactics. PSG captain Thiago Silva and January signing Yohan Cabaye have both gone on record to say “Hazard is just the type of player we need at PSG” and it was noted when Hazard appeared on flagship show Le Club du Dimanche back in February: Cabaye was on the same show and a month later, joined the club.

Chelsea have insisted that Hazard is not for sale and given his improvement under Jose Mourinho this season - not to mention his status as Chelsea’s most important creative player - that looks unlikely to change in the summer. PSG may be currently negotiating a potential sanction from Uefa over Financial Fair Play regulations, but it might not stop them trying their luck with a €50m offer - especially if they decide to sell Edinson Cavani to keep within FFP regulations.

Real Madrid’s Class of 2002

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The bizarre season that Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas has had is set to be a quiz question for years to come: which goalkeeper did not play a single league game in a season and yet, with no injuries to the team, started in a Champions League final? It is a measure of Carlo Ancelotti’s unifying presence – and Casillas’s humility and maturity – that both men were able to agree that Diego Lopez was number one for La Liga games, and Casillas number one in the Cup games. Casillas is the only current player who was part of Real Madrid’s last Champions League win, coming on in dramatic circumstances as a 19-year-old substitute to deny Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final.

The match-winner on that occasion was Zinedine Zidane, whose volley remains one of the greatest goals ever seen in a European final. His presence on the bench alongside Carlo Ancelotti this season looks impressive (especially since he changed outfit from tacky bright blue club tracksuit to sharp black suit and skinny tie) even if his job is more of a watching brief, with Paul Clement doing the bulk of the training work.

“He sees what will happen on the pitch before anyone else, his anticipation is very strong,” said Ancelotti, pointing out that Zidane speaks individually to the Madrid strikers, from whom he gained immediate respect.

His eye for a player convinced Madrid to sign Raphael Varane from Lens, and promote Jese Rodriguez from the cantera. The Champions League final could be Zidane’s last appearance on the Madrid bench as a number two, given reports that this summer, when he will turn 42, he is looking to start his career as a head coach. Ancelotti began his coaching career at Reggina at 36, but was 42 when he moved to AC Milan, the club of his heart, in 2001. Rumours swept France on Wednesday that his former club Bordeaux were keen on Zidane, while Monaco have also been linked.

Still a favourite of Madrid president Florentino Perez, Zidane is expected to spend two years gaining more experience and then return to Madrid to replace Ancelotti in 2016. “Of course, Zizou is not afraid to be a number one,” Perez told Canal Plus earlier this season. “It’s impossible for him to stay as a number two forever. But he’s clever: he knows the job of coaching is different to being a player. When he started as a player, he knew how to become the best and now, he is after the same, and needs time to do it.” By the time he returns to Madrid - which may even be before Ancelotti’s contract is up (with Perez, you just never know) - maybe Casillas will be ready to join him on the bench too.

One German celebrates in Munich

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While Tuesday was a grim night for anyone associated with Bayern Munich, there was one German happy with Real Madrid’s dominance. Sami Khedira has not kicked a ball in anger since tearing his knee ligament during Germany’s friendly against Italy last November, but he is in contention for an unlikely spot in the final after Xabi Alonso, a hugely important figure for Madrid, picked up a needless yellow card that ruled him out of the final.

Alonso is in good company in that respect - the likes of Pavel Nedved (2003 Champions League final), Michael Ballack 2002 World Cup final), Roy Keane and Paul Scholes (1999 Champions League final) have all been suspended for huge games - but it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti chooses to pick Khedira, who has three and a half weeks to get fit and could force his way into the midfield ahead of any of last summer’s signings Asier Illaramendi, Isco, or Casimero.

Germany coach Joachim Loew will be interested to see if Khedira is fit enough for a place in his squad - which he would merit if 100 per cent, as much for his unifying presence in the dressing-room - and he will not be the only national coach watching on with interest. The manner in which Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal kept Franck Ribery quiet in both legs will have been noted by Vicente del Bosque, who will be able to compare with him the impressive Juanfran in the final (not to mention other squad right-back options Alvaro Arbeloa and Cesar Azpilicueta). Khedira and Carvajal are making late bids for their spots in Brazil.

Why not celebrate a goal?

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I’m not sure when the trend of players refusing to celebrate goals first took hold but it’s almost getting ridiculous now. Okay, we all know that Fernando Torres is an Atletico Madrid fan - he captained the club at 19, so of course he is - but this was a Champions League semi-final and he looked devastated to have helped his team. (Even though the TV cameras did not pick it up, it seemed like he did celebrate the late goal he set up to beat another former club, Liverpool, last Sunday.) Are we to assume that means Torres will be on Lisbon on May 24, supporting the team that knocked him out?

And what next? Players at the World Cup refusing to celebrate goals against the country of their birth: what if Eduardo da Silva scores for Croatia against Brazil? Or Diego Costa scores for Spain against Brazil? Will we see this repeat on a coaching level too? Brendan Rodgers refusing to celebrate against Swansea, and Tony Pulis the same against Stoke? If that followed at the World Cup, the game between Honduras (coach, Luis Fernando Suarez) and Ecuador (coach, Reinaldo Rueda) would be most confusing as both coaches were in charge of the other side four years ago. Far simpler if everyone just celebrated their goals, back-stories be damned.

Ben Lyttleton (Twitter: (@benlyt)

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