Monday 21 October 2019

Defensive frailties on display in final make era ofGerman dominance unlikely

Alan Hansen

A Premier League inferiority complex has become well developed thanks to the German dominance of this year's Champions League.

A highly entertaining final at Wembley has done nothing to remedy those feelings of inadequacy when we assess how England's clubs fared in comparison to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

They justified their position as the most accomplished teams in this year's competition and it is evident English clubs have work to do to close the gap. The Germans, at this particular moment, are better and they should be congratulated for elevating this season's tournament.

Does this mean we are witnessing the start of an era of Bundesliga dominance? Not for me. The evidence to support this widely publicised prediction was not at all compelling. Bayern and Dortmund are good, but the victors have not joined the pantheon of the greats. Not yet.

That's why English football should be cautious about beating itself up too much because I do not believe the gulf that needs bridging is even remotely intimidating. Don't misunderstand. What I witnessed on Saturday was a cracking spectacle. It was a thrilling, open football match between the two best teams in this year's competition. But I also saw two very beatable German sides that were as vulnerable in defence as they were impressive pushing forward.

If you want to make a direct comparison with the finest English football has offered the Champions League in recent years, I would suggest the difference in class between what Premier League and Bundesliga has been highly exaggerated.

In fact, I would argue both Bayern and Dortmund would have lost to the English Champions League finalists of five years ago. Yes, the Manchester United and Chelsea sides of 2008 would have beaten the Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund of 2013.

German football may well be improving, but their No 1 status is more a consequence of English and Spanish club football's slight deterioration this season.

I doubt Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid felt intimidated by what they saw. With the correct recruits, they will feel confident they can ensure the all-German final was a one-off rather than the start of a recurring trend.

For all the attacking verve on display, there were plenty of flaws – especially in both defences. The more tactically adept teams of the recent past would have exposed those inadequacies. Against a more solid defence, Bayern's attackers would have struggled.

The most surprising aspect of the final was how the archetypal view of German football as methodical, defensively sound and almost 'machine-like' was completely dismantled in favour of such an adventurous approach.

It could have been 7-7 on Saturday, chances flowing at either end and ensuring neutral observers could marvel at that rare occurrence – a final that was not stifled by over-caution.

Both managers have to be congratulated for their audacity, but Dortmund's high-energy pressing game not only made for a wonderful match, it also demonstrated how, defensively, some of their more highly-rated defenders could be unmasked. Some of the space granted players such as Arjen Robben defied belief.

The game was so pleasing on the eye because of high-risk tactics which, ultimately, played into Bayern Munich's hands and there was a certain inevitability about their win because of their opponents' more consistently fragile defending.

Mats Hummels, for example, has been lauded as one of the most accomplished centre-backs in Europe but he made several errors. Both Bayern's goals came from mistakes. Robben's winner was created thanks to little more than a long ball that was not dealt with.

Dortmund played a classic flat back four but made fateful mistakes when the full-backs did not always push up with the centre-halves.

For Bayern, Dante was fortunate to stay on the pitch after conceding a penalty with another reckless challenge. It looked amateurish.

As a competition, the Champions League has certainly improved because so many teams are committed to attacking football and the country whose clubs are usually so adept at playing a more defensive style in Europe – England – no longer have the same quality.

When it was Terry and Carvalho for Chelsea, Ferdinand and Vidic for United or Carragher and Hyypia for Liverpool, even the greatest attacks struggled to break them down.

Those three partnerships would not have been quaking at the prospect of facing Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery. I'm quite certain that Pep Guardiola will head to Munich identifying plenty of areas of improvement before we start talking about this Bayern side in the same terms as the Barcelona team that won at Wembley three years ago.

So before we start making too many proclamations about Germany eclipsing Spain, while further demonstrating the Premier League's weaknesses, we should reserve judgement a while longer.

Well done to German football. During this particular season it has been the best in Europe.

The challenge for the English clubs now is to get back to where they were five years ago and re-establish the superiority that has been surrendered as much as wrestled from their grasp. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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