by Gautam Viswanathan Apr 2, 2013 17:12 IST
If you like watching the Champions League – wait, why am I saying if – then on the basis of the historical achievements of the teams, the quality of the football they play and the star-casts their rosters contain, then a significant portion of you will be definitely rooting for Real Madrid or Barcelona to win. After all, they do play out some of the best Champions League fixtures every year.
Well, not this year.
This year, Real Madrid face Galatasaray, and while I am looking forward to seeing how Los Merengues react to the atmosphere of the Turk Telekom Arena two weeks from now, I will watch that game with as much anticipation as I watch Barcelona, who have made it to the top via the old-school method, take on Paris Saint-Germain, in whom you will not find a bigger antithesis to the Catalans this season.
No. The game that will capture my attention the most is Bayern Munich versus Juventus.
Please ask your eyebrows to come back from their slightly elevated position on your face because both these sides have been in excellent form both in their own leagues and across Europe. Germany has acknowledged that there is little that will stop the Bavarians from winning the Bundesliga.
Across the Alps in Italy, Juventus sit imperious atop Serie A. Their lead may not be as comfortable as that of their opponents on Tuesday night (Wednesday early morning in India) but that will not deter them from giving it their all when they make the short trip from Piedmont to Bavaria.
But surely, one might argue, that that is not reason enough to watch them.
If they are dominant in Germany and Italy this season, it is because they both have sides bursting with talent. Sure, they may not have the aura that surround Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and to a lesser extent, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but in order to grasp the full extent of how well-equipped they are in all departments on the pitch, read on.
Up front, Bayern have three frontmen: Mario Mandzukic, currently top scorer in Germany, Mario Gomez, who occupied that position last season, and 34-year-old Claudio Pizarro.
Who put four past Hamburg over the weekend, as Xherdan Shaqiri, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben (2) made the previous match day one that the visitors will want to quickly forget. It isn’t every day that a team is walloped nine-two is it?
Sorry…that was just more impressive in words. Four of those nine were scored inside the first half hour.
And Hamburg SV have never been relegated from the Bundesliga.
It’s not just that Bayern are marching on with great swagger towards what will be a record 23rd German league title. It’s the way in which they have done it as well. At the rate at which they are currently going, they will break their own record for the number of games remaining when they do get their hands on the title. They also set the longest win streak at the start of the season and have conceded the least number of goals. Their 20-point lead atop the league’s summit is yet another record.
When they faced 1860 Hoffenheim on the 3rd of March, although it took only a solitary Mario Gomez strike to win it, Bayern had gone 584 minutes without conceding a goal, breaking Koln’s 565 minutes which were set in 2009/10.
While Bayern play with swagger, Juventus play with pride.
The pride that comes only when you have come back from the depths of ignominy and hardship that prove to be one of the most intense baptisms of fire one can ever face.
Nobody wanted to join the club after Calciopoli saw them relegated and stripped of two titles in 2006. Several of their highly prized possessions left the club as the Old Lady sunk to the depths of Serie B. But a few loyalists stayed and soldiered on, sacrificing their momentary personal glory for an opportunity to write themselves into the annals of history forever.
Given the performances Juventus have put on the pitch this season, it is evident that they will never, ever forget the grim days of 2006-07.
Juventus are resilient. Juventus are determined. Juventus are back. The six years they have spent in Italy’s top flight have served as a reminder to those cynics who wrote off La Vecchia Signora after she had fallen. And yes, they did spend a couple of seasons in the doldrums as they failed to qualify for the Champions League, but the arrival of Antonio Conte changed all that.
Last year, Juve won their first Serie A title post-calciopoli. What made that feat even more impressive was the way in which they won it. Like Bayern, they too went about setting records of their own as they went through the entire season unbeaten.
On the 22nd of December last year, Juve’s 3-1 win over Cagliari meant they had amassed 94 points in a calendar year, breaking their own record of 93 set under Fabio Capello seven years ago.
But fans of the club will remember another 3-1 scoreline with some chagrin. On the 3rd of November 2012, Juve’s bitter rivals Inter ended their unbeaten run of 49 games, leaving the Bianconeri level with English side Arsenal.
Unlike Arsenal, however, they did not implode. While the Gunners’ 4-2 loss to Manchester United was a signal of them pressing the self-destruct button, to Juve, that defeat just appeared to be another loss as they went about consolidating their place atop the league summit. They did even the odds, though, beating Inter 2-1 at the San Siro last week.
For both coaches, this represents an opportunity to show the world just how good they are. Jupp Heynckes will leave at the end of the season, but can doing so writing his name in the record books as he attempts to win Bayern’s first ever treble, while for Antonio Conte, tonight represents a chance to silence his team’s doubters once more, showing them that they have earned the right to be among Europe’s elite.
Tonight sees two of the world’s best slugging it out while playing some excellent football. Sit back (though I doubt any of us can) and enjoy.
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