2014-2015 Champions League Semi-Final Predictions
By: Gabriel Munoz-Morris
Now that the dust has settled after the action of the quarter finals, we look again to the future. The semi finals are next and the two matchups are very different. The Barcelona-Bayern series is one that promises to provide everyone watching a lot of pace and some amazing displays of world-class talent. On the other hand, the Madrid-Juventus series has been increasingly worrying me. The Italian side has made it to the semi-finals, which, itself, is a wonderful achievement for any team. No team can make it this far in the Champions league without the perfect combination of luck, skill, and good calls.
Lets discuss the calls that have helped Juventus make it this far. Most notably, the Italian side was awarded a penalty against Monaco in France for a foul that occurred outside of the box. This call alone is enough to prove that sometimes to have a hope of winning a title, a team must first get the right call at the right moment. The series against Monaco was decided due to this call in the end, as the goal that was scored on that penalty shot was the only goal scored in the entire series. Now, I could go into why soccer should evolve and use replay technology for important calls but that is all material that is better suited for another article. We are here to discuss the hard truth that Monaco is out and Juventus is in the semi-finals against Real Madrid. The call that decided Juventus’ last series could just be the call that ends up costing them the next series. Soccer has a way of leveling the playing field. The fact that Juventus was awarded a penalty that should not have been awarded as such may play a factor when a Juventus player drops inside the Real Madrid eighteen in this next series. Referees will be very alert because if that sort of call gets Juventus past Real Madrid and into the final in Berlin there will be an uproar. It is one thing to have a call like that eliminate Monaco, but it is a completely different thing to have a questionable call be the reason that Real Madrid are eliminated, especially in the semi finals. I think that everyone can agree that Juventus have had one of the easier paths to the semi-finals of the teams left. One could argue that, because of this, they do not deserve to be there as much as the other three teams do. I do not agree with this. Yes, the teams that Juventus has faced so far have been of a smaller caliber than some of the teams that Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Bayern have faced. At the end of the day though, Juventus is still in it and they are very dangerous. They have shown that they know how to suffer and that they can lash out and do damage when they need to. They also just clinched their domestic league four games before it finishes. This frees them up to focus on Real Madrid. The Spanish side do not have this luxury as they are in an arms race with Barcelona for the Spanish league title. This added stress means that the players that Real Madrid plays against Juventus are probably playing most of the minutes in the games on the weekends before the Champions league matches against the Italian team. Real Madrid also has several notable players returning from injuries. Benzema is injured but may return in time to play some minutes if needed against the Italians. Bale, who is now practicing somewhat regularly, has also spent some time sidelined lately. Modric, the man who runs Real Madrid’s offense, is out and will most likely not make it back for the series against the Italians. These three injuries are responsible for 29 of Real’s goals this year in league and 19 of their assists. Bale and Benzema alone have a combined 8 of Real’s 21 goals in Champions League this season. This significant offensive loss is mitigated to some respect by the record crushing Cristiano Ronaldo but even the second best player in the world has his limitations. Ronaldo works best when teams have to worry about more than just him. It is easier for a team to guard Cristiano when he is the main threat. Teams can focus more on him. This is the reason that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has been able to sneak in three or four goals in recent games. Teams are too worried about Cristiano. As for who I think will win this series, I have to give it to Real Madrid. I am a Barcelona fan and I will be jubilant if Real lose because once they get to the final they will be unstoppable. Real Madrid has a solid back line that shows up to play (most of the time). They have a very powerful midfield that can distribute the ball, shut down opposing teams’ offense, and get to the box and score. The front line, even if they are missing two of their stars is still very well staffed. I have always considered Chicharito too good to be sitting on the bench every weekend at a top club like Real or Manchester United. Juventus has had a little too much luck in getting this far and they should be proud of the impact they made this year in Europe but they do not have the team to compete with Real. This being said, of course I will be rooting for “La Vecchia Signora” to send Real home.
Speaking of going home, Pep Guardiola is coming back to Barcelona to try and eliminate the team that he played for and coached to several successes. The beauty of this is that Guardiola has not been back to Barcelona yet for an official game to face the men he once coached. It will be interesting to see how the stadium, that once chorused his name, reacts to him. This series is going to be much more than two games of soccer. The current Barcelona coach, Luis Enrique, who also played for Barcelona while Guardiola was on the squad, is very good friends with Guardiola. They will be forced to think of ways to tactically outfox each other. Looking at the last round of the tournament, Barcelona rolled over the shadow of a team formerly known as PSG. I had thought that PSG would be able to take advantage of Barcelona’s clear deficiencies at the back line but the team that took the field in Paris and in Barcelona looked as if they were simply there to watch with the rest of the fans. I still do not understand what Laurent Blanc was playing at with the lineup he set against Barcelona in the second leg of the series. At the end of the day, I am happy that I called that series wrong and that Barcelona went through. I am also very excited that Messi, Suarez, and Neymar (MSN) are finally clicking. Bayern had a rougher series against Oporto but only for 90 minutes. The game in Portugal was basically an instructional video for future Bayern defenders on what not to do while playing an international club match. The game in Munich was Oporto’s response to Bayern’s poor game. Bayern were able to score early and often. At the half Bayern lead 5-0 and needed only to continue to control the game as they waltzed into the semi-finals. The Bayern win I called almost exactly. I said that as soon as Oporto conceded in Munich it was over. It was indeed. For Oporto, the quarter-finals were good enough this year. Their team really had no business being in the semi-finals. Now, for the answer to who will win the series between Barcelona and Bayern, I have to be a little biased. I believe Barcelona will win but not because they are my team. I think that the sting of the 7-0 series from a couple of years ago has not quite subsided. If it did, it certainly resurfaced as soon as they found out they had to face Bayern again. I think that Barcelona are going to take this series as a sort of revenge for what was done to them a couple of season ago. I don’t mean that they will trounce Bayern like they were trounced but rather that they will eliminate Bayern, most likely by a small margin, and move forward to the final to face their most hated of enemies. There have been several times in the past couple of years where Barcelona and Real Madrid could have ended up in a Champions League final against each other but this season I think it might finally be time. I think that the final will not be as high quality if it does end up being a Clasico but at this point in the season Barcelona and Real Madrid both look very unstoppable. I had thought that Barcelona’s defense would not hold against PSG but the French side did not even make a dent. Bayern have much more team chemistry than PSG and are more deadly up top but the Barcelona defense has apparently decided that they are going to play well (at least in the Champions league). I am confident that the team will come together and capitalize on the slight defects that Guardiola’s Bayern side have shown this season.
So for this year’s Champions League final I am calling a Clasico. I hope, for the sake of good soccer, this does not happen but that is what it looks like to me. I always try to be as impartial as possible. Plus, I would love to see Barcelona beat Real Madrid on the biggest of stages, although the risk of the opposite happening makes me squeamish. I can already imagine the text messages I would get… No matter what two teams make it to the final, I know that I speak for every soccer fan when I say that I hope every game from here on out is a good one. And if I am wrong and the final ends up having an Italian and/or German team in it then I will provide my thoughts on that. I am sure there will be a great deal to discuss if Bayern and Juventus knock out the two Spanish titans.