| 5.3°C Dublin

Germans can spoil Wembley El Clasico

Close

THOSE dreaming of El Clasico at Wembley, of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi duelling for the greatest club honour of all, had their hopes increased yesterday when Real Madrid and Barcelona were kept apart in the draw for the Champions League semi-finals.

But the Germans of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are quite capable of spoiling the Spanish party.

There is so much to celebrate in the four teams vying for a place at Wembley, in particular in their attacking prowess and creativity, but they have all shown occasional vulnerability.

It may well be as much about safeguarding against mistakes and showing total concentration, as flourishes in front of goal.

Real seemed comfortably in control of their tie with Galatasaray in Istanbul until a three-goal response from the Turks spread some jitters.

Bayern flirted with real embarrassment at home against Arsenal in the round of 16. Barcelona needed Messi to save them at home against Paris Saint-Germain, while Dortmund required late goals, and a touch of offside controversy, to break Malaga hearts.

The best two teams in Europe this season have been Bayern and Real. They are also the two most prolific and there are strong reasons for believing they will be the final combatants on May 25.

It will make awkward viewing for the English hosts. Such sensitivity may have been behind the decision by Premier League officials to release details yesterday that "grounds have been 95pc full" with an average attendance of 35,731 and an aggregate attendance of over 11.2m.

That is all very well, but it is the Spanish and Germans fighting for the grand prize. Two of the greatest footballers of all time, Ronaldo and Messi, reside in Spain. Few clubs are as well run as Borussia, while Bayern's player-development system is a model talent factory. Just look at Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller.

Madrid are narrow favourites to overcome Borussia despite their group-stage travails against them.

Jose Mourinho has clearly targeted the Champions League and Real will be set up sharply.

Mourinho is a man on a mission. If he leads a third club to the Champions League, following on from his work at Porto and Inter Milan, the debate will surely intensify over whether the self-styled Special One is actually the greatest coach of all time.

Throw in two Premier League titles at Chelsea and it is a legitimate debate, if a far from conclusive one. Mourinho's counter-attacking tactics enhance the glittering gifts of Ronaldo, whose 11 goals are the campaign's best and his phenomenal athleticism is seen in his covering 112.7 metres every minute of the 15 hours he has played in the Champions League this season.

Angel Di Maria's five assists and Mesut Ozil's four reflects the high-quality support network Ronaldo can call on. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos return from that incredibly well-timed suspension.

Mats Hummels' recovery from an ankle problem helps Dortmund's hopes of keeping Real at bay.

Their energy is encapsulated by Mario Gotze, whose four assists and two goals form the most notable statistics of a fine season in Europe but it is also his constant movement, often at speed, that has brought him coveted glances from coaches like Arsene Wenger. Gotze covers 136m every minute.

Potent

Robert Lewandowski's 123m is another prodigious return. The Pole misses some chances but six goals is still a good return. Add in Marco Reus and Dortmund are not short of potent momentum.

Ramos and Raphael Varane will be up against a very sharp attack and will need all the shielding work of Alonso and Sami Khedira.

If Real should just edge Dortmund, then Bayern against Barcelona is far harder to call.

Many will back the Catalans because of Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta but for all their domestic excellence they are still not quite right in the post-Pep era.

The Spanish football expert, Guillem Balague, examined Barcelona's differences this season with the tweet: "Things missing from the Pep era: positional game, pace, pressure high, defensive line, runs into box, work of wingers, tactical surprise".

Bayern will not be fearful, although the groin injury suffered by Toni Kroos is unfortunate, as is the suspension for Mario Mandzukic. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent