While most of the spotlight is on the Inter X Barcelona, there is another semi-final to be played between two very capable and well drilled teams. The shiny Allainz Arena, which resembles a space-age balloon, is the venue for the first leg of the 2nd semifinal between Bayern Munich and Lyon (Olympique Lyonnais).
Bayern Munich is a much better team than your usual Bundesliga team. Here is stat that might surprise you. They were the 2nd highest spending team in all of Europe last summer next only to the $300 million spent by Real Madrid. But like many a great team, they started the season very slowly, mostly because of a lot of new faces in Robben, Mario Gomez to name a few apart from their new coach Dutchman Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal is known to be a disciplinarian and the players initially had some trouble adjusting to his methods. Some bad results in the Bundesliga and a lackluster start to their Champions League group stage rang the alarms in Bavaria. But they held on, and needed a gutsy victory at Juventus in the final game of the Champions League group stage to get advance to the pre-quarterfinals.
They were distinctly lucky to beat Fiorentina in the round of 16, thanks to some bad refereeing in the home-leg and a wonder goal from Arjen Robben in the 2nd leg which broke the hearts of the team from Florence. A bit more of the luck and never-say-die attitude helps them to squeeze past Manchester United again through a wonder goal from Arjen Robben at Old Trafford.
The strength of Bayern is on the wings with Franck Ribery on the left and Arjen Robben on the right with their searing runs hugged to the line. Ivica Olic is a hardworking and persistent striker who is very dangerous with the rebounds and anything that is not saved cleanly by the defence. The midfield is manned by the hard-nosed Dutchman Mark Van Bommel and the tireless Bastian Schweinsteiger (now there is German worth his name :)). If they have a weak spot it is their central defence. Martin DiMichelis, Van Buyten and Badstuber are average at best and they have a lot of difficulty facing nimble and quick strikers.
Lyon a perennial winner of the Ligue 1, also started their season very slowly. They sold their best talent Karim Benzema to Real Madrid in the offseason, which the fans didn’t appreciate very much. Combine that with a sluggish start to the season, Claude Puel's team was under tremendous pressure to do well and advance from a tough group in Champions League. They delivered the goods in the Champions League dispatching the more famous Liverpool out of the group stages. Their reward for that accomplishment was a 2nd round tie with nine time champion Real Madrid, who despite their history hasn’t been able to get past the round of 16 for the past 5 years. They brought in Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema to break the streak of disappointment. Lyon won the first leg 1-0 in a tight tactical game from a brilliant goal by Jean Makoun. The 2nd leg at the fabled Santiago Bernabeu started very badly with an early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. The key moment arrived when Puel made some tactical adjustments to the Lyon midfield deploying an additional midfielder Maxime Gonalons in place of a central defender Boumsong. That completely threw Real Madrid off their game and the equalizer arrived in the form a great goal by the young Pjanic. One more year of disappointment for Madrid and ecstasy for Lyon.
Lyon beat another French team Bordeaux 4-2 aggregate over two legs. The first leg at Lyon was fairly one-sided 3-1 victory for Lyon. The game in Bordeaux was much more tactical as Lyon came to defend their lead and a 1-0 victory to Bordeaux wasn’t enough for Laurent Blanc's side.
How this game will play out?
If there is a weak point for Lyon, it has to be their defence. Cris & Boumsong are not top class and they will have trouble dealing with Ribery and Arjen Robben when the cut inside. Lyon has an unsung yet better midfield in Toulalan, Pjanic and Govou and the young Gonalons. They prefer playing a 4-5-1 with the powerful and intelligent striker, Lisandro Lopez upfront. Bayern normally employs a 4-4-2 with Olic paired with Gomez or Klose and Schweinsteiger and Van Bommel as the pivots in the middle. The Lahm-Ribery combination on the left side will be a constant threat. Robben, while an impressive player when fully fit isn’t built for the full 90 minutes. Bayern will try to use the width of the pitch and stretch the midfield of Lyon and the cut-ins of Ribery & Robben to unsettle the central defence. Lyon on the other hand will play on the counterattack, set up a midfield of containment and release Lisandro and Pjanic to catch Bayern in possession. This is a really difficult tie to predict as the teams are evenly matched overall but their strengths and weaknesses are in different aspects of the game.
A fun fact about this game is Karim Benzema who moved to Madrid, failed to get past the 2nd round again eliminated by his ex-team Lyon. Real Madrid sold Arjen Robben to Bayern to make way for Benzema, who has taken his new team to the semifinals with some sparkling performances.
- Lyon - won the French League, Ligue 1 6 years in a row until last season when Bordeaux finally dethroned them.
- This is the first semifinal for Lyon, who have been a regular in CL all these years but never got past the quarter-finals.
- This is also the first year where 2 French teams qualified for QF and one for the semifinals in a long long time.
- This is also the first time in 7 years where there is no English team in the semifinals.
- Bayern - Is known for their heartbreak loss to Manchester in the final of 1999 when they shipped in 2 goals in the dying minutes to lose the final 1-2. Although they won the cup a few years later, this year’s defeat of Manchester United is seen as some sort of revenge.