Watched the Dortmund-Madrid Champions League game the other night (auto-record by DVR has to be about the best invention since the wheelbarrow).
And I've got to say that Real Madrid was back. The furious pressure on the ball, especially in the midfield, was back, and they looked very hungry.
Dortmund was playing a little more conservatively, since they needed to not lose by three (four if they managed to score a goal), but was still trying to score until about the 80-minute mark.
But, oddly, despite a number of prime chances by both sides (almost all of Dortmund's chances were in the second half; the first was almost clinical domination with some bad shooting and good goaltending to keep the game scoreless), there were no goals scored before that point.
Around the 80th minute, though, Dortmund basically stopped attacking, and just concentrated on packing in the box. When they got the ball, they basically just tried to clear it, rather than than possessing it. But Madrid finally broke through in the 83rd (Benzema, off a beautiful setup) and 88th minutes, leading a very tense final eight minutes (there were six minutes of stoppage time).
But that ended up being all the scoring; Madrid didn't even really get close after that.
This was a game that, if it were hockey, would have been called 'chippy'. No fights, but lots of disagreements and lots of calls. But there was still a lot of non-calls (some of which were vigorously protested), and I kept expecting the ref to utterly lose control. It was riding a fine line all night, on that, but never quite stepped over.
One other odd note. Dortmund's right back had a number of throw-ins, and every single one was illegal. He didn't use his hands equally, and every single one was spinning pretty hard. I wish they'd enforce that rule.
But the Spaniards will stay home, with the Germans going to Wembley for the final.
I then watched the Barca game the next night (in effect, I watched both games on 3-5 hours tape delay).
And Messi was again on the bench for this game. I did catch that the problem was a hamstring one. Those are tough; they get mostly better before too long, but that last bit can linger for a long time. And if you're not careful, come back just as bad as the initial problem.
I knew he had an absurd number of goals (I knew it was just short of 100 for last calendar year); turns out it was 58 for Barca. I didn't realize that they're pretty much an average team (in terms of finishing talent, anyway, they've certainly got plenty of top talent in the midfield) without him; second in goals in David Villa with 14. That's one heck of a drop-off.
Anyway, the big question was how Bayern would be approaching the game. And they came out very defensively aggressive. That is, Barca still had the lion's share of the possession, but Bayern was marking very close and putting a lot of pressure on the ball. So they weren't going to just sit back and let the game come to them.
Barcelona was not content to sit back either, but without Messi they just couldn't break down the defense. They could get it to the box without too much problem, but not without Munich having lots of people around the point of attack. As a result, they weren't really getting any good chances. At least, the chances they got weren't materially better than Bayern's counterattacking chances.
But despite a lot of effort by both teams, there was no score at halftime.
Things started about the same, with Barca dominating possession, and Bayern almost exclusively attacking on the counterattack.
But one of those counterattacks, only three minutes in, found Robben on the right side of the box. The defense gave him a chance to bring it a hair towards the middle (and, more importantly, set him up on his left foot), and he boomed it across the goal and into the net.
At that point, Barcelona was deeply in trouble, as they now needed six goals without allowing another. And really, they gave up shortly after. Xavi and Iniesta were both subbed out within about fifteen minutes of the goal.
They finally found the net two dozen minutes after the first goal. Unfortunately, it was Pique trying to break up a cross by Lahm, and it found his own net. It was very unfortunate, as he was making the only play he could (and it would have been an easy goal if he'd missed; the player behind him had an empty net because the goalie had to play Lahm to shoot).
That was pretty much it; Barca didn't even really threaten after that. Munich even played keep-away a few times, and weren't heavily challenged when doing so. Mueller managed to get another score a few minutes later, beating a couple of players (including the goalie) to a high cross right next to the goal and putting it into the goal.
Robben really impressed me in the game. I hadn't even noticed him in the first game (he might have been on the bench for all I know), but he had a number of good chances in this one, capping them with the goal mentioned above. His passing (and decision-making in passing) were not great, but he did a very good job of giving himself chances on goal.
Mueller wasn't nearly as noticeable this time. He did have the one goal, but that was about it for him, offensively (he was doing a good job of applying defensive pressure, however).
Lahm also had a very good game, with a number of very good runs up the wing. It was one of the better games I've ever seen him play, actually. Alaba also looked very good, especially on the defensive end.
Overall, you have to call the performance a dismantling of an incredibly good team. Kudos to Bayern Muenchen for playing so well.
So yes, we will have a pair of German teams playing for the Championship. I'm looking forward to it. I actually can't decide which team I'd prefer to see winning, so I'll just have to enjoy the spectacle.