Home > Football > UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals: Half-Time

UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals: Half-Time

Now that this week’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first legs have been played, we are a bit closer to knowing which two teams will contest the final at Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on May 22nd. The two matches could not have been more different, one being thoroughly entertaining, the other a somewhat dull affair livened up only by incidents involving the referee.

Internazionale vs Barcelona

There is no need to wax lyrical about defending champions Barcelona as it has been done by many others before me but didn’t you just have a sneaky feeling that The Special One would come up with a tactical master plan to not only stifle the world’s best club side but beat them as well? Love him or loathe him, you cannot dispute the fact that Mourinho is a tactical genius and once again in a big game, he got it just right.

Mourinho employed a system I have often claimed is the one to beat Barcelona: pack the midfield. Guardiola’s team lacks genuine width in midfield and is reliant on the fullbacks, often Alves and Maxwell, to provide it, leaving them susceptible to the counter attack. Messi tends to drift infield and all of their play is routed through the world’s best midfielder, Xavi. If Xavi is a non-factor in a game, so too, usually, are the likes of Messi and Ibrahimovic.

The key man in Mourinho’s plan was always going to be Esteban Cambiasso. A player Eric Cantona would deride and describe as a water carrier, Cambiasso has proved to be a very important cog in Mourinho’s machine and performs the same role as Claude Makelele did for the Portuguese at Chelsea. At the San Siro on Tuesday night, the Argentine proved his worth yet again, protecting the back four and helping smother the Barcelona midfield. The normally unflappable Xavi cut a frustrated figure in midfield as he was not afforded time on the ball and lacked options when looking for a pass. Messi was kept extremely quiet by Maicon and Thiago Motta and on his return to the San Siro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was anonymous.

Xavi endured a night of frustration at the San Siro (This image is the property of Reuters)

In spite of this, it was actually Barcelona who took the lead against the run of play in the 19th minute. Maicon went AWOL in Inter’s right back position and his fellow Brazilian Maxwell took full advantage, getting to the by-line before cutting back to Pedro to slot home. Inter had started well so it remained to be seen how they would respond to such a hammer blow. The answer was very well. Diego Milito narrowly missed from a tight angle before the increasingly impressive Wesley Sneijder rounded off an Inter counter attack to fire a low, right-footed shot past Victor Valdés. 1-1.

Just after half-time, Maicon atoned for his earlier defensive lapse by putting Inter 2-1 up. This time it was Barcelona who defended poorly. After Messi conceded possession further up the pitch, the ball found its way to Diego Milito who was inexplicably allowed to maraud up the right and pick out the onrushing Maicon to put I Nerazzurri ahead. Inter were content to let the Catalans dominate possession and hit them on the break and they did so to devastating effect in the 61st minute. A swift break resulted in Wesley Sneijder misdirecting a headed chance in to the path of the excellent Diego Milito who nodded home from close range to give Mourinho’s men a two goal cushion. Barcelona protested as Milito looked to be a yard offside when Sneijder headed the ball but the linesman failed to raise his flag and the goal stood.

Sensing that their bid to retain their European crown was in serious jeopardy, Barcelona showed an increased sense of urgency, as illustrated by the use of Gerard Piqué as an auxiliary striker. They refused to abandon their passing game though and this resulted in them trying to walk the ball in. They never looked like they would succeed and Julio César dealt comfortably with any efforts that came his way. Barcelona should perhaps have been a given a golden chance to reduce arrears seven minutes from time. Dani Alves beat Wesley Sneijder and surged into the box. The Dutchman panicked and tried to win the ball back from behind with an ill-advised scissor tackle. He seemed to catch the back of the Brazilian’s legs and Barcelona seemed justified in their appeals for a penalty. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerenca thought otherwise and waved away the appeals and booked Alves for diving.

The remainder of the match played out and Barcelona now go to the Camp Nou needing to overturn a two goal deficit. Can they do it? Yes. Will they? We will wait and see.

Bayern Munich vs Olympique Lyonnais

Having knocked out last year’s runners up Manchester United in the quarter finals and come into form domestically, Bayern Munich went into the game at the Allianz Arena as favourites.

This immediately looked to be justified as Bayern started much the better of the two teams. Lyon showed very little in the way of attacking ambition and seemed content to sit back and defend. It appeared that they would have been quite happy to return to the Stade de Gerland at 0-0 and for the vast majority of this match, it looked like they would.

This was in no small part thanks to some profligate finishing by the Bavarians. First Franck Ribéry could only screw a weak shot wide after cutting in from the left and minutes later Manchester United tormenter Ivica Olic squandered a golden opportunity to put Bayern ahead when he wildly lashed a left-footed shot wide from ten yards out. Belgian centre-back Daniel van Buyten was the next culprit, heading wide after Hugo Lloris completely misjudged a corner from the right. It was all Bayern at this stage but the complexion of the game looked as if it was set to change in the 37th minute. As Lisandro Lopez collected the ball, Franck Ribéry attempted to win it back. It has to be said that his attempt to do so was poor as he went studs up straight over the top of the ball and caught Lopez on the ankle. Italian referee Roberto Rosetti was left with no option but to show the Frenchman a straight red card which could spell the end of his participation in this year’s competition and this in a week when Ribéry thought his life could not get any worse. Bayern are sweating on the decision regarding the length of his ban and are probably fearing the worst. Lyon, buoyed by this, mustered their first meaningful attempt on goal shortly before the interval as Kim Källström stung Hans-Jörg Butt’s palms with a long range effort. Bayern manager Louis van Gaal opted for a defensive move at half-time, bringing on Anatoliy Tymoschuk for the ineffective Olic.

Ribéry's week went from bad to worse (This image is the property of BBC Sport)

Despite their one man disadvantage, it was the German side who started the second half the brightest. In the 53rd minute, Philipp Lahm surged up the right wing and picked out Thomas Müller in the box. With the goal at his mercy, the youngster got his feet in a mess and fell over as a gilt edged chance went begging. One minute after, the referee was the centre of attention once more as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jérémy Toulalan contested a 50-50 ball in midfield with high feet and studs showing. Schweinsteiger fell to the ground holding his leg and Rosetti showed what looked like a harsh second yellow card to the French midfielder. The game was now ten vs ten and Bayern took control with Arjen Robben becoming ever more influential. On the hour mark, the flying Dutchman skinned Cris and flashed a fierce left-footed effort past the post which should have served as a warning to Lyon. Sensing his side was well on top, van Gaal went on the offensive bringing on Mario Gomez for Danijel Pranjic and just five minutes after his introduction, the German striker failed to convert a very presentable headed chance at the far post following good work down the left from Robben.

Bayern deservedly took the lead in the 69th minute as once again the Lyon defence allowed Robben to cut in on his left foot. Hugo Lloris was somewhat unsighted but will be disappointed he did not do better with Robben’s 25 yard effort, although it did take a slight deflection off Müller. Claude Puel cannot be happy with how his defenders constantly let Robben cut in on his favoured foot and it nearly cost them dear five minutes from time as he let fly with another long range effort. Luckily for Lyon, the shot was straight at Lloris who dealt with it comfortably.

Immediately after this, Robben was substituted for Hamit Altintop. Upon seeing his number on the fourth official’s board, Robben had a face like thunder and threw something of a strop as he came off. Louis van Gaal, who has a reputation as a no nonsense coach, looked thoroughly unimpressed and literally collared his star winger. A verbal dressing down (presumably in Dutch) followed but looking at his recent performances, van Gaal would be well advised to keep Robben on his side.

What was a much less entertaining match than Tuesday’s came to an end with Bayern 1-0 to the good. They now travel to France as favourites to progress and judging by Lyon’s abject performance last night and with Robben in red hot form, we should be seeing them in Madrid.

Final Thoughts

So at the half-time stage of the semi-finals, Bayern Munich and Internazionale are sitting pretty and are favourites to progress to the final. However, as we all know, football is far from straightforward and a lot can happen in the return legs so we shall have to wait and see what happens. Anyone else excited!?

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Categories: Football
  1. April 22, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    I see Mourinho winning his second Champions League trophy against Bayern Munich but will he replace Ferguson? If newspaper reports are to be believed it’s his preferred job but there is a chance Real might snare him in the summer to replace Pellegrini. I think Ferguson will do another two seasons at the most as he says his wife wants him to stop. if Mourinho can hold out, I think he will definitely be in the running for the United job

  2. Superiorraw
    April 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Hmm. One great trophy to add to Mourinho’s resume before he departs Milan to succeed Alex Ferguson? We can’t be far off Ferguson stepping down now and I cant think of anyone better to take the club forward. He’s very passionate and a winner, just like Ferguson he hates to lose and more importantly he’s a solid manager, he considers defending to be just as important as attacking.

    I think Inter Milan will go on and win the tournament. As long as they can neutralize the threat of Barca in the 2nd leg they should have that sealed, and I think they’ll be too strong for Bayern or Lyon.

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