Daily Archives: April 24, 2013

A Heavenly Night in Munich

Masterful. Superior. Brilliant. Perfection.

These four words definitively encapsulate the performance of Bayern Munich versus the best team in the world yesterday and of the last five years, FC Barcelona, at the grand Allianz Arena in their first UEFA Champions League semifinal match-up. The final score at the end of 93 minutes was 4-nil in favor of “The Bavarians.”

For Bayern Munich fans, last night’s game was absolutely magical.

There are many necessary elements to playing a great soccer game, like good passing, control, positioning and shooting. However, one of the lost arts of “the beautiful game” is the importance of fitness (and some height).

The pure dominance of Lionel Messi and Co. courtesy of Bayern Munich provided a world-class training video in how to surrender more than sixty percent of the possession, and yet, still crush your opponent physically, mentally and on the scoreboard. How? Being efficient and running, running and running. From the very first whistle, the players in red and gold were sprinting to every mark and every man. And yes, this included lone forward Mario Gomez and winger Arjen Robben. To emphasize, they were not jogging, but running and sprinting to every gap and to virtually every space in front of every opposing player on the pitch for the entire game. They successfully executed my suggested defense against FC Barcelona, “The Crocodile Trance,” from back in late March. They were positioned correctly, allowed for possession and then attacked at the exact right moment. Lionel Messi, their maestro in the middle, had no oxygen to get the Barça offense breathing.

FC Barcelona’s excellent brand and bottle of offensive wine, with its smooth taste and dancing flavors, was kept corked in a cellar back in Catalonia.

What was more startling was the fourth and fifth gears the Bayern offense operated with while on the counter-attack after persistent, and seemingly exhausting, defending. Each time they had possession in Barcelona’s side of the field, there was legitimate reason to believe a goal could be scored.

And on four occasions, that happened. The goal scorers were Thomas Müller with a brace, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben.

A magnificent game plan with an outstanding display of fitness and spacial awareness coupled with good passing, control, shooting and timely height advantages led to one of the most dominating soccer performances in Champions League history, a sentiment being widely echoed.

Here are a couple player reactions from last night’s game.

“[Barcelona] have dominated Europe over the last five years, and to beat them like this in such a terrific way, I think we have to be proud. But on the other hand, let’s be humble about it and enjoy this evening, because there’s still a game to play and we have to be ready [for the second leg].”
—Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich

“The comeback is very complicated,” Messi said.

“They were better than us, they were much stronger. They were superior in everything.”
—Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona

However, there is still one more game to be played in this leg at Camp Nou. FC Barcelona is still considered to be the best team in the world by many. The key words in the previous sentence are, “by many.” After witnessing Bayern Munich’s 4-0 triumph, some are starting to believe this was a “passing of the torch” of sorts for the unofficial crown of the next best team in the world.

This hypothesis will become more clear, but still not solidified, after next Wednesday’s match. But consider this: Bayern Munich has a four goal advantage and a single away goal from them is equivalent to two. Plus, the mastermind behind tika-taka and the massive success the past few years at FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, will be the new head coach in Munich next season. Also, Bayern Munich became the fastest team to ever lock-up the Bundesliga Title earlier this season and are set to compete in the German Cup Championship, DFB-Pokal, against VfB Stuttgart on June 1st while under the steady leadership of head coach Jupp Heynckes.

Even just up to this point of the season, Heynckes deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the work he and his coaching staff have orchestrated so far this season. Bravo!

Again, there is still one game left to be played in this semifinal at Camp Nou and the hosts will certainly not be welcoming and will be preparing to fire on all cylinders. All cannons will be lit. It will be an exciting and aggressive game. Camp Nou and all of Catalonia will be rocking.

Still, pending a certain result, the 4-0 victory could prove to be not just a solitary 93 minute sprint, but perhaps the beginning of an enduring marathon of footballing dominance. It’s certainly a fascinating proposition to imagine…

At least for one week, Bayern Munich fans can share Arjen Robben’s sentiment.

arjen robbenPhoto By Keeghann Sinanan, Goal.com

I think this look signifies, quite simply, “Yup. We did that.”

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The Mighty Blue Jackets

5-16

Especially in a shortened season, this record after twenty-one games was completely contradictory to any aspirations of competing in the post-season in the NHL. This was the Columbus Blue Jackets’ record on March 2nd, no less. It was abysmal.

And yet, with one away and one home match-up remaining, the once-last-place-in-the-entire-league Blue Jackets are potentially two victories from making the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. Wow! How did this happen?

Let”s start with two words: Jarmo Kekalainen.

No, this isn’t a Finnish delicacy, but the name of the Blue Jackets’ current general manager. In fact, according to the Associated Press’s “Jackets hire Jarmo Kekalainen as GM” on ESPN.com from February 13, 2013, the general manager shift mid-season was quite a big deal.

“Just more than 24 hours after firing Scott Howson, they announced the hiring of Jarmo Kekalainen of Finland as the first European to be a general manager in the National Hockey League.”

Hard to believe, but it’s true. What seems even more unlikely is that Columbus could be playing hockey in May. And yet, on April 24th, it’s still a possibility.

Following the entrance of Kekalainen, the Blue Jacket’s continued with their losing ways, temporarily. There was a three-game and a four-game losing streak. Then came their battle at home hosting the Colorado Avalanche. Including this March 3rd victory versus the Avalanche, Columbus has achieved two five-game and two three-game winning streaks. Currently, they have won nine of their last twelve. An away game at Dallas this Thursday and the home finale against Nashville on Saturday will determine whether or not their hope of earning the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference will even be attainable.

The Columbus hockey faithful know a third three-game winning streak to end the regular season is a must.

The Blue Jackets have played in seventeen (17) overtimes and nine (9) have gone to shootouts this season thus far. They have won five of the shootouts. While Sergei Bobrovsky continues to play sensationally down the stretch, he is 5-4 in shootouts. For Jacket’s fans though, having Bobrovsky conclude the regular season with a potential 7-4 record would be viewed as a tremendous and celebratory achievement.

If the Blue Jackets are to make the playoffs, then their mission has to continue to be met: win nearly every single game starting in late March. So far, the summit is still visible. It’s cloudy with some gusting winds and blinding snowfall, but the top is still within reach.

And by reach, I literally mean that of Sergei Bobrovsky. Hopes of earning a spot in the playoffs may come down to a shootout.

I wonder if Bobrovsky is a fan of Julie “The Cat” Gaffney?