Monday, April 28, 2014

Forget the World Cup: don't miss Bayern Munich-Real Madrid

In a World Cup year there are bound to be many memorable matches, and the final in Maracana, no matter who wins it, will be historic.
That said, the best match of the year is unlikely to be in the World Cup, where first round in particular is set to be full of mediocre sides playing not to lose rather than to win. The knock-off rounds are more likely to be dramatic than well-played as the more mediocre teams get knocked out.

But what match is vying to be the best of the year? The Champions League final is likely, but more so tomorrow's match in Munich between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, surely among the best teams in the world at the moment, if not the best.
Bayern Munich has very much applied Pep Guardiola's style of possession, but still playing more directly (they shoot more on goal). That said, Pep Guardiola made some tactical errors in the first match which he may have to correct. Firstly, although Rafinha had a fine match against Real Madrid, Javi Martinez seems to be a more obvious choice in the defensive midfield to break the counter-attacks. Phillip Lahm should be back in right-back position, while the core questions are whether Mario Gotze or Arjen Robben should be chosen for the right half, and whether Thomas Muller or Toni Kroos should be offensive midfielders. I personally favour Mario Gotze ahead of Robben, who I think lacks passion the most important matches. Also, while I like Toni Kroos, I think Thomas Muller's defensive abilities and experience will be more important to feed Mario Mandzukic up front. The weakest point may be central defense with Dante and Boateng, but this is a luxury weakness, and the strengthening with Martinez should be enough.
In the meantime, Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid plays eminent counter-attacking football, getting the best out of an incredible Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel DiMaria, Gareth Bale and even Karim Benzema. In defense Pepe has been extraordinary in the last matches, while the combination of Xabi Alonso and Luca Modric works very well; they are both very complete midfielders with excellent defensive and offensive abilities. On the left-hand side I have been very impressed by the young Isco, who is already a star and is bound to become even better.

I am certain there will be goals, drama and a very high level of tactical, physical and technical skills, far above anything we will see in Brazil this year. While the World Cup appeals mostly to petty nationalism (that is why 90% of people watch), the high quality football that real football fans like is what we will see tomorrow.

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