Wednesday, 4 April 2012

What we learned from Bayern-Marseille…

1. A tale of two keepers

French TV were ‘impressed’ by Manuel Neuer’s performance, which included two excellent saves, one low to his right halfway through the first-half, and one high to his left in the second, however their praise should have been reserved for Steve Mandanda in the Marseille goal. He pulled off a string of stunning saves from varying angles from Ribery, Kroos, and Olic midway through the first period, along with a superb reflex save from Ribery during the second. Indeed, were it not for the consistent excellence of Hugo Lloris in Lyon’s goal, then Mandanda would be a shoo-in for French first-choice national keeper. The Marseille captain and hometown boy will surely have his head turned sooner or later by a huge European club looking for a keeper, destination Milano?!

2. Mathieu Valbuena is strangely underrated

Valbuena at 27 (28 in September) is probably in the last-chance saloon this summer for a move to the Premier League, Serie A, or La Liga. The pocket-sized playmaker showed tonight why he is indispensable to the French outfit, as well as being a choice for captain when Mandanda is out. He looked a class apart from his fellow leaden-footed midfielders, always trying to link up with Ayew down the Marseille left, and generally proving the only real headache for Bayern defensively. His knack for the special goal has been shown at Anfield and the Westfalen Stadion (where he scored a brilliant goal against Dortmund this season) as well as scoring against England at Wembley.

3. Ivica Olic loves a French side

Olic’s last five Champions League goals have been against a side from L’Hexagone. The diligent Croat netted a hat-trick against Lyon in the Stade Gerland in the 2009-10 semis, and bagged a brace against Marseille in the Allianz Arena this week.

4. Bayern Munich are a formidable force in the Allianz Arena

Bayern have conceded three goals in five games at home this season, whilst scoring 17. Ominous numbers, and admittedly seven were against Basel, but that very same Basel who beat Bayern in Switzerland as well as knocking Manchester United out. Indeed, Bayern’s performances at home, particularly against a strong Manchester City and Marseille have been totally commanding, with Gomez scoring for fun. Fervent, knowledgeable home support is attracted in huge numbers to the vast bowl of a stadium, and with Bayern being not only the biggest team in Bavaria, but also Germany, such a trend has always, and will always be. With Maradona tweeting that he believes Bayern will knock Real Madrid out, who’d bet against them beating (probably) Barcelona in the Allianz Arena in the final?

5. David Alaba has slipped under the radar

Bayern have produced lots of good Germanic footballers over the last decade. Heralded, household names such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber have all been brought the the Munich youth system, however a young talent so often overlooked is David Alaba, the Austrian. Alaba, poached from Austria Vienna in 2008 is a versatile 19 year old, capable of playing left-back or left-midfield, but most at home as a dynamic central midfielder, acutely similar to Ramires in style, but Alaba’s distribution seems to have the potential to be of a higher quality. His assist for Bayern’s second goal demonstrated his tremendous athletic and footballing abilities, a lung-bursting run up the left flank, exchanging passes with Ribery the entire way, followed by a sumptuously weighted cross for Ivica Olic to put past Steve Mandanda. Perhaps due to Austria’s relatively small prowess on the footballing map, Alaba has been overlooked by many football fans, but his consistent, versatile performances for Bayern this season make the young Austrian one to watch.