Bayern Munich's 4-0 win over hapless Hertha BSC on Saturday was so comprehensive that Berlin midfielder Andreas Ottl professed himself "rather satisfied" afterward; it really could have been much worse for the visitors. The imperious league leaders kept another clean sheet -- their eighth in as many games -- and only looked troubled once during the 90 minutes, when the camera closed in on a glum-looking Arjen Robben in the Allianz Arena stands. The 27-year-old winger's continuous struggles with injuries and speculations about his standing in the team remain unseemly blots in the red and white copy book.
Bayern Munich's 2-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League wasn't quite as comfortable as the result suggested. Talk of "the invincibles" or of the team being an Bavarian answer to Barcelona is clearly premature. However, the quality of the performance against a top Premier League side did show that a run of 10 wins without conceding a goal (in all competitions) wasn't merely a result of a particularly kind fixture list. Bayern, as a team, is functioning better than almost any European heavyweight at the moment -- the turnaround from last season has been truly spectacular. Seven reasons explain the radical improvement:
After 188 minutes of wildly entertaining, at times outrageously open football Tuesday, it all came down to Bastian Schweinsteiger's tired legs. The Bayern Munich midfielder failed to keep up when Goran Pandev started running from the halfway line and could only watch in horror as the Macedonian smashed in the epic winner that sent Internazionale into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Shhhh! Stop. Stay very, very still. Listen carefully. Prick up your ears and you might just catch it: a faint rustling in the bushes as it ducks and dives its way through the darkness of Padre Damián Street, scavenging. If you're really lucky, you might even hear its characteristic call breaking the still air in the dead of night, escaping from somewhere in the shadow of the Santiago Bernabéu:
When Arjen Robben returned to his club Bayern Munich on Aug. 4, there were immediate fears that his World Cup experience with the Netherlands might have done lasting damage. "Will Robben crack because of the lost final?" worried tabloid Bild. Even Robben himself seemed unsure about the psychological effect of missing his one-on-one chance against Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, a pivotal moment in the match that could be described as the opportunity of a lifetime without hyperbole.
JOHANNESBURG -- For all the controversy and the perceived injustices, for all the bad fouls and dubious decisions, for all the aesthetic/ideological debates about Spain being boring and the Dutch being nasty (or vice versa, if you will), it came down to this:
Sometimes the best tactics can be the simplest. After all the talk about pupils overcoming masters, of the wily veteran against the protégé he developed over three years at Barcelona, there was no sense here that Jose Mourinho had outwitted the Bayern Munich coach, Louis van Gaal. Internazionale won the Champions League final because it has better players, and exploited Bayern's weaknesses.
Nearly 11 months of competition have come to this, a Champions League final to be duked out in king of rings, the Santiago Bernabeu. In the blue corner, the lip-curled sneer of Jose Mourinho, who actually seems to be enjoying his success at Internazionale -- this is a league and cup double-winning season -- about as much as a punch in the face. In the red corner, Louis van Gaal, whose Bayern Munich side thrashed Werder Bremen 4-0 to claim its own double last weekend.
At the start of this season's Champions League campaign, very few observers would have predicted that the two teams left standing on the eve of the final would be Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. And yet, after disposing of more fancied opposition in the semifinals, both teams are poised to make history in a final that has more than its fair share of subplots. Here's five things to note about the final:
Saturday's Champions League final between Internazionale and Bayern Munich has come to feel as though it's as much a clash between their respective managers, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, as between the clubs. The flamboyant Latin and the phlegmatic Dutchman are linked, of course, by the time Mourinho spent working under Van Gaal at Barcelona between 1997 and 2000.
First, a disclaimer. Yes, after three consecutive seasons of having three English league clubs in the Champions League semifinals, this year there aren't any. Not since 2003-04 has Europe's Final Four included no Premiership teams.