By Kelvin YapFollow @@plevyakin
R.I.P Spanish football dominance.
That's the popular narrative emerging from the media and fans after Dortmund and Bayern beat Real Madrid and Barcelona by a combined score of 8-1 in the first legs of the Champions League semi-finals.
The nation which has won four continental club competitions, two European Championships and a World Cup in the past five years is seeing the end of its golden period. I beg to differ.
Yes, German football is on the rise; yes, Barcelona and Real Madrid are stagnating - but the gulf in class is not so large as to signal a shift in power.
Consider this: what if Dortmund and Bayern exchanged opponents? It would still be a ‘Germany vs Spain' showdown, but the factors in the games suggest that the results would have been different. The key point here is that both teams lack the players who ultimately influenced the results in the other game.
A distinct feature that stood out from both games was the manner both German sides pressed and countered.
Dortmund pressed Real from the midfield and focused on denying Xabi Alonso time and space to dictate play. When they eased off in their pressing after scoring the first goal, Alonso immediately started dictating the tempo. Real Madrid then had a period of dominance which led to their equaliser.
Mario Gotze was Dortmund's key player here - he was ordered to press Alonso when defending but avoided the Spaniard when making the transition to attack. He focused on drifting out to the flanks to set up two-on-one situation with the wingers to take advantage of the lack of tracking from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil.
Bayern pressed Barca high up the pitch, and then fell back when Barca passed the ball out of defence. Their transitions relied on catching the whole Barca squad out of position and using Schweinsteiger's astute passing ability to launch counter-attacks.
Lewandowski was Dortmund's hero with all four goals.
His first was courtesy a cross from Gotze, his second and third were borne of brilliant instinct in the box and the fourth was scored from a penalty. He was otherwise dropping deep to help Gotze press Alonso in defence, which meant that he was rarely receiving the ball in the box.
Ronaldo's equaliser for Real Madrid came after a period of dominance in midfield and an error from Mats Hummels.
Bayern's first two goals - scored by Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez - exploited Barca's lack of height with set pieces headed down from the far post to cause confusion in the box.
Their latter two goals came when Barcelona committed too many players on the attack and were caught out by Bayern's speedy wing play.
How would they fare against each other?
Of course, it's naïve to suggest that Jurgen Klopp nor Jupp Heynckes would play the same squad with the same tactics if they were playing different opponents. With that caveat, let's conjecture how the matches would have panned out had the opponents been exchanged.
Dortmund vs Barcelona
Bayern's plan to sit back and counter attack relied a lot on a sharp passer in midfield and speedy wingers. Dortmund's central midfield pairing of Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan lacks the passing ability of Schweinsteiger while their wingers Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski are less direct runners than Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
Dortmund's hard pressing high up the pitch to win the ball back as soon as possible has been a key feature in their game. However, it's hard to imagine them getting much joy going up against a Barcelona midfield adept at dragging defences out of position.
In attack, Heynckes' side relied on their height advantage over Barcelona with Gomez up front and Muller chipping in. Dortmund's Lewandowski deals with crosses well too, but prefers to run onto the ball than to stay in a position to fight for it, which was what Gomez excelled at against Barca.
Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid
Dortmund's success can be credited to Gotze's drifting to the flanks and setting up two-on-one situations against the Real Madrid full backs.
Bayern lack a player like Gotze (the fact that they are signing him in the summer only reinforces the point made here) who can link up play while drifting around the final third of the pitch.
While many top clubs boast players like that (Ozil, Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa, Santi Cazorla), Bayern rely a lot on Schweinsteiger's passing and their wingers to push the play forward. Toni Kroos is the closest player they have that fits the bill, but he lacks the creative passing that sets these players apart.
A further comparison can be made to Dortmund's attack, where Lewandowski impressed with his instinct to create two of their goals out of nothing in the box.
Gomez isn't as adept with the ball in the crowded box (he prefers to take one or two touches to go for goal) while Muller relies more on speed and composure to break defences open, rather than the pure instinct that Lewandowski showed.
Keep calm and carry on
Don't be mistaken - this is not taking anything away from what Dortmund and Bayern achieved and both Bundesliga sides would still have been fancied to come away with a win if they switched opponents.
The hypothetical conjecture was only to show that the gap in class between both leagues is not as big as what it's made out to be.
Germany may be on the ascent; Spain on the wane, but it's going to be a gradual process; not the meteoric rise and the precipitous fall being touted by most.