We are halfway through the semi-finals of this years UEFA Champions League and what a week it was. It was a record setting pair of midweek match-ups as many personal milestones and firsts were hit.
The first game of the week saw last years runner-up Bayern Munich blitz Barcelona, defeating the Catalan giants 4-0. Barcelona, of course, saw most of the ball, but Munich came out to play strong on the wings. Barely seeing any of the ball in the center of the field, the Germans preferred to build out of the back and go down the wings to great success. Barcelona has never looked so vulnerable. Bayern Munich was a very disciplined, hard working side and put Barcelona to the sword. Many teams have become wrapped up in the occasion before and had a hard time playing to their top level against Barcelona, but Bayern didn’t back down. This game was a joy to watch, with Barcelona’s fluid passing and Bayern Munich’s solid, hard-working, never quit industry matching off so well in their favor. Barcelona managed 1 shot on target the entire game. The Germans were a bit lucky, with replays suggesting that Mario Gomez was offside for their second goal and that Thomas Mueller had fouled a Barcelona player in the build up to their third. However, they could have just as easily had a penalty very early on when it appeared as if Pique handled the ball in the penalty area. It all evens out in the end, as the saying goes.
Something must have been in the water in Germany, as the next day Borussia Dortmund came out and ran over Real Madrid to the tune of 4-1. This game, somehow, was able to top the excitement and action of the night before. Both teams came out fighting. Real Madrid saw more of the ball, but Dortmund took care of their chances. Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring after just 8 minutes for Dortmund and, rather than collapse, Real Madrid stepped up their efforts. They turned up the pressure and went close on a couple of different occasions. Dortmund felt they should have had a penalty shortly before half-time, but 30 seconds later found themselves with a tie game as Cristiano Ronaldo had equalized at the other end. If the first half was great, the second half was immaculate. Both teams pressing, attacking, and creating chances. Madrid had a few chances to score a few more goals, but Robert Lewandowski was the star of the show, scoring three more goals in the second half to seal a famous 4-1 win. You could do worse than this game to show people why this sport is called “the beautiful game”.
- Thomas Muller was important for Bayern Munich in their 4-0 thumping of Real Madrid. He scored a diving header to open the scoring and then poked in from close range at the end to finish the game off. He had an assist, too, as well as setting a screen, somewhat illegally, to block off a Barcelona player to let Arjen Robben grab his goal. The German international had what looked like, at the time, it would be the best game of the week.
- Robert Lewandowski became the first player to ever score a hat-trick against Real Madrid in the Champions League when he scored four goals on Wednesday. Each goal seemed to be better than the last. He got on the end of a cross from Mario Gotze to slide his first home in the 8th minute. For the second, it seemed impossible at first glance that he was onside, but he was level as the ball was played in to him for him to collect with his right, spin around, and hit with the outside of his boot to guide it into the corner. The third, shortly after, he pulled back and struck with players closing on him and put it perfectly in the top corner. The fourth, a penalty, was cheekily hit straight down the middle. One of the best individual performances that will ever be seen.
- Marco Reus looked dangerous in the midfield for Dortmund, too. He provided an assist for one of Lewandowski’s goals, had a few shots himself, and was a tidy all around player. He could have been man of the match if Lewandowski hadn’t played phenomenally. An all around fantastic player and important part of Dortmund’s midfield, he will be just as important in the second leg.
- Cristiano Ronaldo became the fifth player to score 50 goals in the Champions League. Raul, Messi, van Nistelrooy, and Henry have previously reached that landmark. He has found the net in six straight Champions League games.
- This was the first time in Champions League history that two teams have conceded 4 goals in a set of semi-final games.
- Jordi Alba (Barcelona) will be suspended for the second leg after receiving another yellow card.
- Real Madrid will host Dortmund on April 30th, while Barcelona will host Bayern Munich on May 1st for the second legs.
- News broke shortly before these games happened that Dortmund’s influential midfielder Mario Gotze will be heading to rivals Bayern Munich over the summer for a fee believed to be in the range of £31.5 million ($48.6 million). Teammate Robert Lewandowski is rumored to be considering making the same move.