Five things we learnt from the Champions League final

by Nikica Kolundzic

Bayern Munich Champions LeagueSaturday night saw Bayern Munich deservedly cement their places among the legends of football with their 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund which was sealed by none other than Arjen Robben with a spectacular finish in the dying embers of the game, caressing the ball under the spell of his masked trickery and sublime skill before guiding it calmly past Roman Weidenfeller into the open net. A crucial goal which stopped the critics labelling the current Bayern team as ‘chokers’ – a side which suffered under the curse that pressure and expectation cruelly bring every time they reached a final. (They had reached the Champions League final twice in the past three years, losing both matches and finishing runners up to Inter Milan and Chelsea respectively)

The colossal final between two German juggernauts of football, held at the world-famous Wembley Stadium in London, was a tense and back-and-forth affair, with Weidenfeller and Manuel Neuer both showing why they are two of the world’s best goalkeepers after pulling off some unbelievable saves to keep their sides in it. Nonetheless, Bayern built on the sudden change of momentum in their favour that the half-hour mark saw, with a strong start once the second half kicked off as the inevitable goal that everybody knew would happen finally came in the form of a Franck Ribery through ball which split the Dortmund defence in half as Robben’s low cross was cooly slid away into an open net by Croatian hitman Mario Mandzukic.

However, a pure moment of madness ensued just 6 minutes later after Dante lunged at Marco Reus inside the box, completely missing the aloft ball and planting his studs unforgivingly into Reus’s midsection. Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan stepped up and confidently sent Neuer the wrong way, reinstating Jurgen Klopp’s side back into the tie. At this point, the match had reached a stalemate as Dortmund began to wilt under the physicality of Die Bavarians, as their durable pressure and momentum finally came to a head when Ribery’s through ball to Robben deflected off Lukasz Piszczek’s right leg and fell to Robben’s feet, as he ran past Mats Hummels and tucked it away past Weidenfeller into the bottom left hand side of the goal just two minutes before full time.

Robben’s goal finally restored Bayern Munich to the top of the heap as kings of Europe, as the best and most commendable team in the competition rightfully won it under their retiring manager, Jupp Heynckes – and ended the past three years of pain and heartache that still lingered throughout Bavaria. Nevertheless, with the biggest game in club football finally being laid to rest and being a fitting way to close out another brilliant season, here are 5 things we learnt from the 90 minutes of football Germany’s best had to offer.

5. Robben may be worth hanging on to

Arjen Robben’s late game heroics may have earned Bayern their 5th Champions League title, but it has been no secret Bayern were looking to offload him to another club amid reports they were growing less tolerant of his selfish nature and inconsistent performances. However, last night certainly proved Robben still has more to give, scoring perhaps the most important goal of his 13 in 30 appearances for Bayern this season. Furthermore, with Bayern going from strength to strength with the signing of Mario Gotze from rivals Dortmund, it may be a better solution for Bayern to keep Robben as a useful back-up winger (a role he has been resigned to since the beginning of this season) and sell the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri who has failed to make his mark with Die Roten.

No matter how old or self-centred Robben may appear to be at times on the pitch, he is still a vital cog in the machinery that make up Bayern Munich, and he has proven he can still impact games when he is allowed to drift into unexplored positions and show what he is capable of with his audacious scoring efforts, charging, confident runs and blistering pace. Besides, Bayern would be losing a terrific player with the imminent sale of Arjen Robben to another fortunate club, and he would certainly leave a huge hole in the Bayern offence that they would need to address as soon as possible, and a hole they may even end up struggling to replace.

4. Borussia Dortmund are here to stay

Borussia Dortmund’s gutsy and valiant performance against a heavy-favourite Bayern Munich side proved to everyone they had finally completed their transition as one of Europe’s elite. Their impeccable start to the match was illustrated by some beautiful football between their attack, as Reus and Gundogan threaded passes together to Lewandowski on numerous occasions – although he was unable to find his shooting boots on the night. Despite many people having grown to respect the love and passion of the Die Borussen fans, many have claimed Dortmund are nothing more than a team enjoying the brightest spell in their history with the best young stars in the world who have broken onto the footballing scene – Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze to name a few.

They also wrongly predicted the final last night would be a walkthrough for Bayern, who may have been the technically superior side, but their victory certainly was not a straightforward one by any stretch of the imagination. Dortmund’s impressive performance against their Bundesliga rivals not only confirmed they were a side which deserved their spot in the final, but also that they will be still be amid Europe’s greatest teams for several years to come, even if some of their best players leave during the hectic transfer window this summer.

3. Schmelzer is the weak link in the Dortmund team

Marcel Schmelzer’s performance yesterday was a very disappointing and lacklustre one – on an evening where he was given the seemingly impossible task of keeping the interchanging duo of Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller quiet; he found his true weaknesses exposed and magnified by Bayern’s immaculate and intelligent positioning. Even though he did a good enough job when finding himself in a one-on-one situation with Robben or Muller, many could argue he should have done more to divert the course of the ball away from Mario Mandzukic and keep the deadlock firmly intact. Despite Dortmund keeper Weidenfeller getting a meaningless touch on Robben’s cross which allowed the ball to sneak past Schmelzer, the German fullback owed it to himself to reward his desperate efforts to track back with a crucial touch which would have kept the game in the balance, at least for a bit more time.

Furthermore, the left-back found himself stranded out of position far too many times, allowing Robben and Muller to make surging and dangerous runs into the box with even more space out wide for Phillip Lahm to overlap and loft in a cross. On his day, Schmelzer can be one of the best full-backs in the Bundesliga, but the Dortmund defender was helpless in his efforts to silence the offence Robben and Muller provided, and Dortmund could look to shore up the left-hand side of their defence with the arrival of the transfer window looming on the near-horizon.

2. Guardiola is inheriting a perfect Bayern side

Pep Guardiola returns from his temporary retirement next season by taking over a complete Bayern Munich side already well-equipped to regain their titles next season. An individually exceptional team condensed with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery integrated with starlets like Mario Gotze yet to join, their counter-attacking style of play is also one of the most efficient and competent offences around, there really is a widespread ambiguity over what Guardiola really can do to improve this already-primed team. Their slow start against Dortmund highlighted just how resilient Die Bavarians really are, turning the tide of the game in their favour after 30 minutes of play and starting to unlock the Dortmund defence with beautiful and ingenious passes which resulted in several clear chances for Robben – which he threw away miserably.

The only area Guardiola could perhaps examine is squad depth, with Bayern being short in real quality in areas such as left-back or central-defensive midfield. However, it is safe to assume from the treble Bayern have already accomplished this season with the unbelievable potential of a quadruple should they win against Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal, Guardiola is taking over a side with virtually no weaknesses and if they can mount a successful transfer window by securing the signatures of some more world-class players, the sky really is the limit for Die Roten.

1. German football is on the rise

The biggest thing we learnt from last night’s 90 minutes of Champions League football was very clear and inescapable – German football is growing increasingly stronger. Not just in the sense regarding club football with Bayern and Dortmund both evolving into some of the best teams on the planet, but also in a sense that Germany has come on leaps and bounds with its youth and talent on an international level, with the best on display yesterday involving the likes of Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer. In fact, it may be hard to argue against a case describing Germany as early World Cup favourites, with the competition set to kick off in 2014 in Brazil.

Moreover, no longer are English and Spanish teams on top of the heap, with Barcelona’s reign of domination set to come to a surprising end and England struggling to keep up with the evolution of teams abroad, as an English side has only reached two Champions League semi-finals in the past four years. Make no mistake about it, German sides and the Bundesliga are heading into some of the most scintillating seasons yet, as the massive gap between them and English sides only seems to widen with every coming season. There is also no doubt this dominance will be reflected on an international stage with spotlights already fixed on the World Cup next year – where some of the best German prospects in the world are looking to dazzle and entertain footballing fans and audiences on the grandest stage of them all.

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