Three big games. Three cup ‘finals’. While one of those games is still in the league format with points to be won & lost, and a scenario that favours one over the other, the importance of these three big games is remarkable. Some, obviously, much more significant than others. But for Atletico, Dortmund & Arsenal, the need for success is vital, all three for differing reasons, but all three equally important.
All of Spain and much of football has pinned it’s hopes on Atletico Madrid; tactically the task may be simple than what Simeone has to do mentally for the players
A Spanish side has challenged for the La Liga title, and reached the final of the Champions League. Not all too surprising is it? But it’s not Barcelona, neither is it Real Madrid. Both the Clasico sides have achieved one of those above two, but neither of them have done both.
The fact that Atletico Madrid have been the best team in Spain across all competitions, arguably the best team in Europe taking external factors into consideration, is quite some achievement in itself. Competing right till May on both fronts and culminating down to two games that could go down in history as one of THE footballing achievements of the 21st century is a testament to their efforts. Absolutely everyone that isn’t parading in the blue & red of Barcelona is hoping for an Atletico Madrid win, and the same will follow for everyone other than the white of Real making Simeone’s men the hipster’s favourite football club of 2013/14.
But with the hopes of most resting on the shoulders of one club, the pressure is immense and signal practically uncharted territory for Madrid’s other club (that statement may not be accurate in a week or so). Buckling under the pressure is a realistic prospect, with the dream so close to being realised. No matter what happens at the Nou Camp, Atletico can be proud of their success. But nothing symbolises happiness and pride than a physical piece of silverware.
MORE READING | Atletico Madrid Tactics: Part One
Tactically Simeone has done it with Atletico this season, undefeated in 5 against Barcelona this season with 1 win and 4 draws. Do exactly the same as any of those results and Atletico will be La Liga champions. Tactically the blueprint is laid out, and one should trust Simeone to manage to replicate those performances, but it’s the battle mentally that may prove to be more challenging for the Argentine.
Last weekend proved to be the perfect chance to secure the title and switch attention to Lisbon, with this game at the Nou Camp becoming insignificant. But on a day where both Clasico teams lost, spelling the end for Real’s domestic title challenge, Atletico failed to better their rivals results and heaped all the pressure on themselves. In a season where most have predicted Atletico to eventually buckle under the pressure, will that eventuality prove to be in the last two weeks of competitive football? The regular hipster hopes not, the betterment of Spanish football hopes not, but the thought of a below-par Barcelona winning the league puts all back to square one.
German football is owned by Bayern Munich, this could be the case for some years, but the cup final is a chance to remind all that there is more than one club in Germany
A lot has been said about Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich over the last couple of weeks, especially in the aftermath of the embarrassing defeat to Real Madrid in Europe’s premier competition. Much of the criticism has been overly exaggerated and largely unwarranted, but the point that introspection is needed is quite true.
No time for that as yet though. Bayern will be going into a game this Saturday to reemphasize their hold of German football, with a cup double just a small symbol of their growing domination. This wasn’t the case just two years back, as the hipster’s club of 2012-13 had managed to win back-to-back Bundesliga titles and a cup double to boast. That being Dortmund of course.
For Jurgen Klopp, Saturday isn’t just a means to salvage something from a largely unfruitful campaign, but also a means to remind everyone that Bayern aren’t the only club in German football. Despite the large gulf in class and Dortmund’s drop in performance, they remain the second best team in Germany and the only real challengers to the Bavarian’s domination. A win in the cup final would give Dortmund their 4th DFB Pokal trophy and resort Bayern to ‘only’ a Bundesliga crown. Not a testament enough to their domination domestically.
Accusing Bayern of spoiling German football is quite a wasteful claim, you can’t prevent sides from attempting to reach greater heights; the responsibility then falls on the opposition to prevent such a scenario from taking place and continuing on. Dortmund will need to be the saviors of the German game, holding the Munich-based club off while enhancing their agenda in the sport as well.
Thus like Atletico, Dortmund too are attempting to prevent a stronghold atop their domestic league. But while Atletico absolutely deserve any success they receive, Dortmund are largely undeserving of much success. Silverware would be a good bonus, but Dortmund have a larger task at hand in the long-run.
Cup success is vital for the Gunners and deserving for Wenger, but don’t let this blanket the unanswered questions
Going in as favourites, Arsenal will be expected to return back with the trophy drought well and truly ended. The chance for success is right within their grasp, but images of 2011 and indeed Wigan last season, will haunt them as they’re reminded that no cup final is easy. But anything other than Arsene Wenger holding the ‘new’ trophy above his head must be constituted as a failure.
The Frenchman has been one of the greatest servants to the club, and indeed football. And while some may find it hard to give him his due credit, you can’t help but smile at the thought of him holding a piece of silverware. A reward for his contribution, his efforts & his philosophy. He’ll no more than anyone else how important it is to keep the focus on winning the game, not to get carried away with the tag of favourites and ensure that the players aren’t pressurised by the situation.
Success in the cup ends the trophy drought, rewards the manager, symbolises the effort the team has put in, ends the banter and could prove to be the push the club needs to return to their former selves. The Arsenal of past wouldn’t have been as excited at the cup as the current crop of players and supporters are. The Arsenal of the recent past were accustomed to success, but a fall on the club’s part and rise of others has seen them down the pecking order in England’s domestic game. As simple as a victory against Hull could put them back up there. But while the club deserves to bask in this potential glory, the bigger picture must be remembered. Success shouldn’t blanket the unanswered questions that still loom large above.
Management and players can be happy with the efforts the side has put in in the league. Competing again, leading for large parts and closing the gap between them and the eventual champions may constitute as progress when compared with themselves. But the fact remains that despite those achievements, Arsenal ended up as the fourth best team in Europe, competing again for Champions League football in the last weeks, albeit earning it more comfortably. Yes Arsenal did improve on their points tally, so did others, significantly seven others improved on their total more than Arsenal. The progress ultimately wasn’t enough for them to mount a consistent title challenge with injuries unfortunately taking it’s toll.
Thus a cup success is another reward for their season’s efforts, and a decade’s efforts for the manager. A physical piece of silverware to place in the trophy cabinet will certainly make the fans happy. Victory at Wembley is vital for Wenger’s men, a loss is unthinkable, but as it is for Dortmund, it shouldn’t blanket the larger task at hand. A consistent title challenge, rather than just a top four spot is crucial to ensure there is actual progress rather than stagnation. Arsenal’s agenda is their own success, not a prevention of domination too like the others.