Has European football power shifted from Spain to Germany?

It was clear for everyone following the Champions League semi-finals that the power has shifted from Spain towards Germany. After many dominating years including 3 Champions Leagues, 3 Europa Leagues, 2 Euros and a World cup the Spanish suffered a major blow as Malaga, Barcelona and Real Madrid were all eliminated by German teams this season. Malaga could have changed this whole image had they stayed for just one more minute without conceding a goal against Dortmund in the Quarter finals but fate saw the Black and Yellow team advance alongside Bayern Munich and the two sides demolished their Spanish opponents in the semi-finals.

Since the start of the season, the two Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid have been showing weaknesses even when the Catalan side seemed to be running an unbeaten streak throughout the earlier part of the season. It was obvious that Barcelona were missing something, not only due to the absence of Pep Guardiola but also due to a lack of reinforcements in the back-line. Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol seemed to be the only true centre-backs in the team while Javier Mascherano continued to fill in at the back despite that position not being his natural one. The problem is signified here rather than in the Tiki-Taka game. The Spanish defensive duo very often were side-lined due to various injuries and suspensions. A bad transfer campaign from Tito Vilanova’s side led to some doubts about his managing abilities despite the proof that he is a good coach. Not reinforcing the back was an inexplicable decision Jordi Alba was the only player signed and he seems more of an attacking threat than a defensive cover. It seems baffling that they chose not to sign players in the areas they needed to despite having the financials for it.

Barcelona were always overcoming their opponents by simply outscoring them, which the rule of the football game if you need to win, but they were constantly conceding goals in large numbers. They conceded in 14 games of their first 20 which means they only kept a clean sheet in 30% of their games a number that is very low compared to their previous seasons.  Later on, Tito Vilanova’s sickness lead to Jordi Roura taking over. Basically Barcelona were being coached by the assistant of Guardiola’s assistant. A lack of a strong character on the bench made the team less cohesive as a lot of gaps were appearing in between their lines.

Moving on to Real Madrid, the team clearly has all the players necessary to have a winning formula. However, the team seemed to be a squad of individual players often clashing together and often the manager, Jose Mourinho himself, clashing with his best players. The capital club has had plenty of arrogant personalities such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas, when alone each of the three is a leader of any given team he could play with. But their presence on the pitch alongside each other caused clashes in leadership on the pitch and Madrid were heavily struggling to produce performances as they faced more united teams in La Liga.

On the otherside, the German teams have been reaping the results a long term plan based on using the right financial approach, the correct tactical one as well as the support of their fans. Bayern Munich have had a near perfect season scoring 90 goals in 31 games as well having a lead of 20 points over their closest rival. Munich stability in the squad especially up front with Mario Gomez, Frank Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller gaining more experience playing alongside each other while Mario Mandžukić improved the quality up front. In addition Xherdan Shaqiri, Javi Martinez as well as Dante strengthened the midfielde and the back-line adding more depth to the squad. With a near perfect team, Munich’s athleticism and high tempo added more winning factors to their formula.

The other German finalist BVB Dortmund, were not able to compete in the league with Bayern Munich; nevertheless, they had a strong support from their fans all the way and their stadium was more than a fortress for them as well as a hostile environment for any opposing team. In the Champions League, they were the surprise of their group beating all three teams Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax Amsterdam later on beating Shakhtar to reach the quarter-finals against Malaga. Their qualification to the semi-finals may seem like a stroke of luck as Malaga were leading 2-1 on aggregate in the 90th minute and even a 2-2 final outcome would still keep Malaga through, yet Dortmund’s determination and energy levels made them score twice in the final two minutes. The Spanish sides have shown that they lack in fitness compared to the Germans throughout all the clashes between them in the competition.

The final product was both Spanish teams Barcelona and Real Madrid beaten by the two Germans, Bayern and Dortmund. It is true that European football power has shifted from Spain to Germany but to claim that the athletic and high tempo game is the start of a new era and that Tiki-Taka or the Spanish game is no longer needed is completely wrong. The issue is not which system is better than the other but how teams can execute them. Reaching football success is not that hard but sustainability is the tougher part and to do so constant planning is required from a team something the Spanish took for granted in the summer of 2012.

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