About a year ago, Bayern Munich played Chelsea in the Champions League final, losing on penalty kicks. It was a heartbreaker; Bayern were, overall, probably a better team, and they were playing in front of their home crowd at Allianz Arena. What did Bayern's dynamic central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger want to do when, after having his penalty kick saved by Petr Cech, Chelsea's Didier Drogba won the trophy for the West London club? He, like any true baller, wanted to run it back.
Above is a video, via TrueHoop's Henry Abbott (and BekoBBL), of an interview with Schweinsteiger conducted at the German League basketball playoffs. Schweinsteiger, attending a Bayern vs. ALBA Berlin clash, talks a bit about the idea of introducing a basketball-style playoff system to football. At the end of this month, Bayern will play fellow Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final. Bayern will have appeared in three out of the last four finals, losing to Inter Milan in 2010 and Chelsea in 2012. After going through the whole Champions League gauntlet, surviving the occasionally arduous group stages, and making it through several rounds of two-leg knockout rounds, teams meet in the final and it's death or glory. Since Bayern has lost the last two finals they've competed in, it's not a shock to hear Schweinsteiger entertaining the idea of a best-of-whatever series to decide the final.
"You can get revenge back for a defeat. We lost in the final of the Champions League last year, and we certainly wouldn't have minded a second or a third game," says Schweinsteiger (or his translator, to be specific), much to the delight of the lady interviewing him. "It's fairer that way. I think the system in basketball is good because whoever ends up as a winner has deservedly won. It's not just because of one fortunate victory."
Let's take a look at what we learned (aside from "fear the rise of Germany") from four matches in which we certainly learned to fear the rise of Germany.
Life After Gotze
Borussia Dortmund midfielder (and soon to be Bayern Munich player) Mario Gotze was subbed off after less than 20 minutes of their second-leg match at the Bernabeu with a suspected hamstring tear. His removal had a rather negative effect. Kevin Grosskreutz, who by the standards of German midfielders is an elderly 24, came on for Gotze. Marco Reus, who started the match in a roving left winger role, shifted into a more central position, more advanced than where Gotze had been playing. Grosskreutz tucked in on the left.
While his positioning and tracking were acceptable, Grosskreutz's touch and decision-making were not. Too frequently play broke down as balls were funneled in his direction. Grosskreutz is a very good player to have as your first choice off the bench in the Bundesliga; he is not up to the standards of starting in the midfield for a Champions League finalist.
Gotze is a unique talent, but he will have to be replaced with someone capable of creating alongside Reus. Problem is, Dortmund already lost that player. His name is Shinji Kagawa and he plays for Manchester United now.
In case you were busy having an adorable cat on your chest and being unable to move, or breathe, or — hey, this cat's trying to kill me! — here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
We're headed back to Boston after the Celtics held on for a 92-86 win over the New York Knicks, forcing a Game 6 in their first-round playoff matchup. Kevin Garnett fueled the Celtics with a vintage 16-point, 18-rebound performance. "Man, that takes me back," Garnett said wistfully after his double-double. "Remember when I was crushing it up in Minnesota. Just me and Terrell Brandon. So young, so naive. Maybe I could get that TV show about my posse off the ground now. Do you think the breakthrough success of Entourage makes it more or less likely? I mean, it was gonna be The Monkees meets The Beverly Hillbillies. I guess it could be reality. That's basically what Carmelo's wife has going on. Nah, TV is a young man's game. I was just born too young."
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins took care of business by thrashing the New York Islanders 5-0 in Pittsburgh. "Oh man, that'll teach us to come on the mainland," Islanders captain Mark Streit said after the loss. "It's weird here. First of all, not everyone takes boats to get places. Also weird, the lack of nautically themed dining establishments. I'm starving for some fried calamari down by a marina; I can't find that in Pittsburgh at all. Total nightmare. They told me, 'Go to a river.' I told them to go up a river, with dumb advice like that. A butt river. Man, I'm hungry."
In case you were busy mixing up Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone, much to your own embarrassment and chagrin, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors, powered by Stephen Curry's 30 points, beat the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, to even up their first-round playoff series at a game apiece. Curry, who fought through a twisted ankle in the third quarter, said after the game, "Of course I overcame a twisted ankle. I'm Steph Curry. A twisted ankle to me is just an ankle. A sprained ankle for me feels like a twisted ankle for you. I need to have my entire foot removed from my shin at this point to be fazed by my ankle."
Despite a night that many would say was quiet by his standards, LeBron James and the Miami Heat used a strong fourth quarter to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-86. "Sometimes you have to be subtle, understated," James said after the game. "You can't just score 40 every night; you have to treat each game like it's a snowflake. Sometimes you have to be gentle with it. Let it know you care, that you see its unique qualities. And then some snowflakes you drop 60 on because that's what that snowflake wants. Tonight wasn't about that. Tonight was about the velvet touch."
In Joe Posnanski's recent profile of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, there's a quote from Bob Spear, Pop's old coach from his playing days at Air Force: "A team could do anything as long as the players just kept moving." The theory is the same in football: create and exploit space through motion, disrupt another team through pressing. Can Borussia Dortmund move enough so as to level themselves with comparably trained sides who also have effectively unlimited bank rolls? Is there room for a working-class Champions League winner in modern football? Or will Real Madrid's well-funded talent prove to be too much in the Champions League semifinal?
We have reached the wonderful part of the UEFA Champions League where a truly elite team can be a heavy underdog. Juventus has dominated Serie A this season after cutting through it unbeaten last season. They lead their domestic league in goals scored and goals allowed. They have one of the best keepers in the world (still) in Gianluigi Buffon, and one of the stoutest spines in club football. Andrea Pirlo has spent the last two years proving AC Milan wrong for both club and country. They have history, experience, one of the world's largest supporters groups. They are without a doubt one of the top five clubs in the world both today, and historically. And they're in a lot of trouble.
How did Juventus get here?
Juventus reemerged from a half-decade of scandal last season, making an undefeated run through Serie A to secure their first Scudetto since 2003 (and Reggie Bush never won the Heisman, let's move on). The Old Lady then got to this point in the tournament by making an undefeated charge through a tricky group that included Shakhtar Donetsk and defending champion Chelsea. Juventus then got very lucky, drawing a relatively weak Celtic side, whom they dispatched with ease 5-0 on aggregate. Juventus then got relatively unlucky, drawing a very good Bayern Munich side, who quickly scored against the Italians, before adding a second-half goal to secure a 2-0 first-leg victory.
The UEFA Champions League is home to the highest caliber of football in the world. This is not about that. Welcome to the worst blunders of the round in the UEFA Champions League. Presented to you with animated GIFs.
4. The Card
Let's start with the most controversial decision of the round, referee Cuneyt Cakir's red card to Manchester United winger Nani for his high boot to the side of Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa. Most believe Nani was too harshly penalized for what looked like unintentional contact. Others have said it was an obvious red card because of the height of the contact, and that Nani shouldn't have given Cakir the chance to book him at such a pivotal moment in the match.
In case you just saw the trailer for Upside Down and found yourself suddenly back to square-one on your big screenplay idea, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Wes Welker has left the New England Patriots, signing a two-year contract with the Denver Broncos. "I always hated Welker," said Northeastern sophomore and Patriots superfan Aaron Sullivan. "Just like I always hated Clemens, Vinatieri, Damon, Beckett, Ray Ray, Manny B, and Tom Brady." When asked why he hated Tom Brady, who never has left a Boston-based team to play for a rival, Sullivan responded, "Oh, guy thinks he's so great because he never left the Pats. Real Pats leave. Period."
The Miami Heat won their 20th consecutive game, beating the Philadelphia 76ers, 98-94, on the road. "Twenty in a row, that's a perfect game in Magic: The Gathering, am I right?" asked Heat forward Shane Battier after the game. "If only someone on this team would play with me. I have a sweet black/blue deck I want to try out. I tried to teach Chris Andersen how to play, but he kept folding up the cards and throwing them at me while yelling, 'Cacaw!' It was disappointing."
Kobe Bryant suffered an ankle injury while landing awkwardly on a late field goal attempt defended by Dahntay Jones, as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Hawks in Atlanta, 96-92. Bryant has been ruled out indefinitely with the injury, saying after the game, "Revenge isn't the sort of thing that has a timetable. Except for a 30-minute head start." When told of Bryant's statement half an hour later, Jones asked, "Wait, when did he say that?" before slipping on a loose piece of linoleum and bruising his knee.
The English Premier League is down to one team in the Champions League. It has been more than 15 years since no English team made the Champions League quarterfinals, but that is the most likely scenario after Tuesday's matches. Reigning champion Manchester City crashed out of the so-called "group of death," Chelsea was unable to defend its title, and Manchester United received a very un–Manchester United dose of luck when Nani was given a questionable second-half red card in the second leg of their tie against Real Madrid, allowing the Madristas to storm back from a one-goal deficit and eliminate the Reds. So all that's left for England is Arsenal. And Arsenal, your Champions League underdog of the week, is in a world of trouble.
In case you were out grilling in the rain to prove to yourself you could withstand the rigors of living in ancient times, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The San Antonio Spurs blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Phoenix Suns in overtime, 105-101, snapping an 18-game home winning streak. Spurs point guard and noted Frenchman Tony Parker, who was serenaded with MVP chants in the third quarter, said after the game, "How can one be 'most valuable' when we are all merely sacks of meat containing hearts that only continue beating out of a fear of change. Hopefully, our late collapse taught the people of San Antonio that lesson, and if it did not, que sera, for they are already dead in the eyes of our already living future selves." Parker then pulled out a pack of Gauloises, only to find it empty. "Cruel irony, if this does not serve as proof of a merciless God, which it does not, then what could?" Parker then folded the empty pack into a balloon and used it to hover slightly off the ground.
The UEFA Champions League is home to the highest caliber of football in the world. This is not about that. Welcome to the worst blunders of the week in the UEFA Champions League.
Ball to Hand?
Let's start at the San Siro, where AC Milan upset Barcelona, 2-0. This was a fascinating match, where Barca was unable to accomplish anything resembling their typical incisive play, and Milan played wonderfully. Their second goal was an absolute stunner, a beautiful piece of teamwork where they strung together four incredibly difficult touches across the perimeter of the box, leading to a wonderful volley from Sulley Muntari. Milan's defensive effort was remarkable, limiting Barcelona to a handful of half chances. But the first goal …
What's going on here? Let's break it down. Riccardo Montolivo takes a shot on goal that appears to be heading just outside of the left post, at which point Cristian Zapata, summoning the spirit of his revolutionary namesake, lifts his hands in the air to signal "V for Viva," and bounce-passes the ball to Kevin-Prince Boateng, who calmly slots it past Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes. Goal? Goal. Really, we're going with goal? We're going with goal.
This weekend's Champions League final featuring Chelsea and Bayern Munich started slowly, but at the end of a penalty shootout, Chelsea, battered and bruised, stood the victors. And in this week's podcast, the Men in Blazers analyze the game with a fine-tooth comb, considering everything from David Luiz's IQ to the invisible hand of Lady Physio.
For Michael, it was among his great achievements. Even Roger momentarily admired the accomplishment before returning to spew his expected bile. Either way, it was a great end to an even better season. To document the end, the Blazered Men present their first annual Men in Blazers Awards.
Here is a photo of Fernando Torres holding the 2012 Champions League trophy and the 2012 FA Cup. Since 2008, Torres has won the European Championship (in '08), the World Cup (in '10) and these two trophies. Saturday, in Munich, he was on the field when Chelsea completed one of the most improbable Champions League runs — coming from 3-1 down against Napoli and defeating a heavily favored Barcelona in the semifinals — since Liverpool came from behind against A.C. Milan in 2005. He looks happy. So why does this 28-year-old with a full trophy cabinet sound so damn sad?
This didn't feel like just another end to a season. In the hours following Borussia Dortmund's 5-2 triumph over Bayern München in Saturday's DFB Cup Final in Berlin, we were gifted with reactions as illuminating as the bit of theater that unfolded on the Olympiastadion pitch earlier that night. The victors were flush. Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's take on the evening (a "disgrace," "every Dortmunder goal was a slap in the face") will likely be ringing in every Red's ears until they finally lock horns with Chelsea at home in the Champions League final this coming weekend. But a post-match press exchange (via Die Zeit) with Bayern striker/smoothie Mario Gomez bottled the moment best.