I was keen to see how the English teams did against their German counterparts. Last year when I was in charge at Inter Milan, we came up against Werder Bremen who we beat 4-0 in the first match and I had the impression that there was a big difference between a team who are the Champions of the Bundesliga and the other European ‘giants’ like Inter. In the return game they beat us (3-0) but we had already qualified and we used young players to give more time to our injured players to recover for the FIFA Club World Cup.
After the first two encounters last night, Chelsea - Bayer Leverkeusen and Borussia Dortmund – Arsenal, I got a much better impression of the two German teams.
There was nothing special about the systems. A 4-2-3-1 for both sides as a match strategy which at times converted to 4-4-2 with good organisation, work rate – a high work rate – and some flashes of ability. Both teams played with a high intensity throughout the game as you would expect at this level and in the first match.
Arsenal got a good result against the German Champions, a club that generates a great atmosphere at home and makes their players give more which shows in their challenges. A lot of initial pressure by Dortmund with Arsenal gradually getting in to the game. Even more pressure in the second half by Borussia Dortmund, with Arsenal holding out well to gain a point which will give them confidence for the future games. One point though – great goal by Perisic.
On their part, Chelsea got 3 points but also had a difficult time against Leverkeusen. Villas-Boas had to use the bench and change players’ positions to find space against the organised German lines of defence. There was a lot of speculation before the game about whether Torres would play and he did start. Fernando’s passes to David Luiz and Juan Mata for both goals will take a bit of pressure off him and may give him confidence in the next few games.
As I said, I was looking forward to see how the Germans did against the English teams and I think that the Bundesliga is getting closer. They have some good young players with ability and they are guaranteed to work hard as the Germans always do. If we assume that Bayern Munich may be the strongest German team, it will be interesting to see how far they get this year.
Of the Barca – Milan match, nothing stood out much except that the Italians scored two goals, one in the first and one in the last minute, making Barcelona pay for lack of concentration and defensive intensity. Barcelona did not deserve such a punishment, but...Genk – Valencia, the stat still holds that Valencia don’t lose in the first game of the Champions League group stages. It followed the pattern but I would have liked to see a more favourable result for them, they would have deserved it.
An historic result at the top level for Apoel Nicosia, their first win in the competition, and against Zenit, not a bad milestone to remember in years to come. And to complete the set of games in an intense night of European football, the hard-earned win for Porto over Shakhtar, a win for Olympique Marseille against Olympiakos and a share of the points between Viktoria Plzen and Bate Borisov which leaves the Barca group as it was. And more to come today...
The great thing about Bundesliga is the way the clubs are structured and owned by the fans. Many huge clubs in England in recent years have been corrupted by owners whose vision for the club was completely at odds with their supporters' vision (e.g. Liverpool, Newcastle). The fans are the lifeblood of a football club.
Financially it means the clubs cannot be as rich as Serie A, La Liga and Premier League clubs, which means they may not necessarily be able to compete at as high a level in European competition. But on the other hand, their International team is reaping the rewards of clubs bringing through the sort of young German talent we see in Borussia's team.
In England clubs like Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal are in Europe every season. It's very natural for them to play that competition. Same with Spain. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal occupy those top 4 spots.
In German only Bayern Munich are almost certain to play Champions League football every season and even they failed to enter the competition a couple of years ago. Other than that Leverkusen are pretty stable. The rest change. We have champions Dortmund entering Champions League for the first time in many years. Bremen, Hamburg and Stuttgart have all been in and out of the competition year by year. Bremen and Stuttgart have especially had difficulties maintaining their top 3 status in Germany.
All this adds up to a disadvantage for German clubs where there is simply a lack of stability and experience when it comes to competing in CL
Barcelona-Milan was another good game, Milan's positional defending was excellant; they forced Barcelona to play in front of them while at the same time keeping Messi fairly quiet (save for Pedro's goal). Maybe this is a blueprint of how to beat Barca, but it would require exceptional concentration to play this way without conceding for 90 minutes while also creating a threat at the other end, something I'm not sure many Premier League teams could achieve
I would be looking there for the answer why that lost so easy to Barcelona in their last Champions L finals
I do think the German teams are rising. The question is to whose expense in the CL?
German teams are also in love with the romantic, attacking game these days and that is rarely the way to go in Europe. Especially since they don't have the very best available players.