Barcelona, Real Madrid could meet in Champions League final
Teams from the same country were kept apart in the Champions League semifinal draw Friday, with the intriguing prospect of a Wembley final featuring the two best teams in Spain or their equivalent from Germany. Here is the draw breakdown ...
No one is allowed to talk about it, and yet it's the main topic of conversation in Munich. If Bayern wins the Bundesliga (clinched already), German Cup and Champions League treble, joining Barcelona (2009) and Inter Milan (2010) in the history books, what will be left for Pep Guardiola, next season's coach, to achieve?
This enticing matchup is Guardiola's past against his future. Chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge insisted coach Jupp Heynckes would not be asking Guardiola for advice (though he didn't rule out the idea of someone else asking: as Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp put it, "I bet my arse [sporting director Matthias] Sammer speaks to Pep before the game."
In the short term, Guardiola could try and replicate the sextuple that he won with Barcelona at the end of his first season, by adding the German Super Cup, the European Super Cup and (if it qualifies) the FIFA Club World Cup to the Bayern trophy cabinet.
"It's completely wrong to talk about this now," said Sammer, while his fellow board members also kept talking about it.
"He will feel comfortable here," said Bayern president Uli Hoeness, while Rummenigge told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "There's no other coach in terms of image and quality who could succeed Heynckes as well as Pep Guardiola."
Heynckes, a former coach at Real Madrid, claimed to TZ before the draw that Barcelona was the team he knew best.
"I know Barcelona inside and out, maybe even better than my own team, having studied their system, players and tactics at Madrid," he said.
And while Bayern has Toni Kroos out injured and leading goal scorer Mario Mandzukic suspended for the first leg, Barcelona has a few issues of its own: Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano are injured, Adriano is suspended and Gerard Pique, the last center back standing, is one yellow card away from suspension.
Barcelona survived shocks in its last two rounds, and has made history by reaching a sixth straight semifinal. But this Bayern side has looked the most impressive of all the teams in the competition this year. Its chance to avenge last year's final defeat could stay on track.
Tip to progress: Bayern Munich
This is a draw that both teams should be happy with: Real Madrid because it will face what many see as the weakest team left in the competition, and Dortmund because it played Madrid twice in the group stage, winning 2-1 at home in October and drawing 2-2, after Mesut Ozil's last-minute free kick rescued Madrid, in Spain.
There is also a sense of relief in Germany that its two representatives were kept apart, mainly because of a row developing between their board members. Hoeness had said he would be happy to play Dortmund because they were the weakest team left, to which Dortmund's chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, replied: "The past few years have shown that we can beat Munich so he shouldn't be too comfortable." After the draw, Watzke kept up the digs:
"We're happy," he said, "but I'm sorry for Hoeness that he won't be allowed to play against the weakest opponent."
I also wonder if Klopp will now regret the openness with which he spoke to Spanish paper El Pais earlier in the season about the tactics he used to beat Madrid.
"We were more cautious against Madrid because we knew they struggle with the ball," he said. "We knew they like to send passes to Cristiano (Ronaldo), so our plan consisted of covering (Xabi) Alonso, which (Mario) Götze did. If you block Xabi, Pepe is forced to always have the ball, and that makes a difference."
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho is hardly going to tell his players to stop using the Alonso-Ronaldo combination as a result, but he does have a record of turning around group defeats in a knockout tie. That's just what he did in 2010, when Barcelona beat his Inter Milan side 2-0 in the group stage (it was 0-0 in Milan) before Inter won the semifinal 3-2 on aggregate.
Mourinho is on the verge of another incredible achievement: if he coaches Madrid to Œla decima", its tenth European Cup success, he would become the first coach to win the competition with three different teams. At Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010, the Champions League final was his last match in charge.
If Madrid is victorious next month at Wembley, he would have fulfilled his remit on his appointment as coach three years ago, and maybe then, president Florentino Perez might think that all the hassle that comes with Mourinho, the provocations and controversies, and the public flirting with other clubs, was worth it. But there is a long way to go yet.
Tip to progress: Real Madrid