There will be no snarling strut from Stefan Effenberg, there will be no sublime skills from Raul Gonzalez, no sense of doomed brilliance from Mehmet Scholl, no wizardry from Luis Figo or even lung-bursting forays from Roberto Carlos. There will be no vicious elation from Mark van Bommel, nor will there be any tireless running from the boy ‘fetched from Canada.’ There will be little chance of ten second goals or even brutal X-rated stamps (content warning), but it is perhaps for these reasons and numerous others that when Bayern Munich take on Real Madrid tonight at the Allianz Arena in Munich, it will be a semifinal that Alan McInally, in his inimitable Scottish accent, would have called ‘a proper European tie.’
Sid Lowe calls it the only genuine, cross-border rivalry in Europe. And while that may perhaps be overstating it a tad bit, it is only that, a tad, which in itself should showcase the gravity of the tie. Madrid-Bayern is an encounter that will set the pulses racing and with good reason – both clubs are uniquely successful in their own country, giants, nay behemoths of the game, vacuuming up talent and trophies right, left and center. And money, of course money; both have a ton. They are more similar than they would ever let on and on the eve of this tie both find themselves in the unique position of overshadowed by another club from their own country.
But while Madrid can perhaps find some consolation in second spot to perhaps the greatest club side in world football history, for Bayern, the recent relinquishing of Bundesliga supremacy to Borussia Dortmund is perhaps a little more galling. This serves then, to add a little more spice to an encounter already sumptuous enough to set the tongues rolling.
On paper, this is almost as good as it gets.
Both sides have a wealth of attacking talent at their disposal, enough you feel to dismantle the best teams on their day. Both are defensively suspect, Madrid perhaps surprisingly so with the prudent Jose Mourinho in the dugout.
Both have also seen juggernaut like runs come to a stuttering end, and at least in Bayern’s case, quite fatally so. A couple of months ago, Madrid were racing to the La Liga title with an 11 point lead; now with an El Clasico tie against Barcelona at the Camp Nou pending, they find themselves just four clear. The fear at the Bernabeu is palpable and the only man managing to keep it at arm’s length has been an inspired Cristiano Ronaldo.
For Bayern, the prognosis is a few shades bleaker. A superb start to the season was undone by a poor few weeks following the winter break. That was all the time Dortmund took to race into the lead, despite a remarkable comeback of sorts that saw Bayern at one point put twenty goals past their opponents in three games. That seemingly unbeatable run came to a shuddering halt at the Westfalenstadion this past week as Dortmund’s impenetrable defence and Robert Lewandowski’s cheeky flick put paid to Bayern’s hopes of lifting the shield for the second year running.
Bayern were not overly discouraged. “We will win against Madrid if we play like we did in the second half,” said Franz Beckenbauer, conveniently forgetting that Bayern let in a goal and scored none in exactly that period against Dortmund.
Mourinho was slightly more pragmatic and in between skipping press conferences to foster his (in) famous siege mentality, he had time to say that Bayern would be hard to beat, despite being almost the same side he beat in 2010. That would only serve to show that Jose hasn’t yet had time to do his scouting or preparations, because there is the small matter of Mario Gomez who has scored just a few goals since Bayern’s run to the final in the season before last.
Bayern will be slightly freer in terms of obligations going into Tuesday’s tie, mostly due to the fact that their title race in Germany is as good as run, something that cannot yet be said of Real Madrid despite that impending tie with Barcelona which will be sandwiched between both legs of this semifinal.
In terms of personnel, the names on both teams suggest that it will be attacking masterclass, which probably means that we are set for a cagey 0-0 tie. But even more intriguingly, the match could, theoretically unite the entire Germany first eleven in the field as Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira join the eight Bayern outfielders who look set to represent Germany in the European Championships in about a month.
Then there is the Jupp Heynckes factor. Osram must be a little sore at having been given the boot after delivering Real Madrid their first Champions League in over two decades. You suspect the same fate would not befall Jose Mourinho, but then again Vicente del Bosque will understand.
The impending tie also ensured that Bayern and Real both had minor hiccoughs in their weekend ties. The Bavarians were absolutely abysmal in their dire 0-0 draw against Mainz, while Madrid labored to a 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon. And it is perhaps this resolve, so quintessential in Jose Mourinho sides, that might see the Spaniards prevail over two legs of this fascinating tie.
Madrid are the favourites, but Bayern have big game players of their own as well, and if the Robbery brigade are ably supported by the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos then for once the marketing folk will be right – this will be a humdinger.
Both side will set up in identical 4-2-3-1 formations with inverted wingers which raises the real possibility that they could cancel each other out. The key difference will be whether Toni Kroos or Thomas Müller plays at the center of the three for Bayern. It looks likely Kroos will get the nod, which ends up making the sides similar still. Madrid look phenomenal in attack, with Karim Benzema ably supported by the fantastic Ronaldo and Di Maria with Özil always looking to slide in inventive passes. Expect Luis Gustavo to do a man-marking job on Özil to cut the supply lines to Real’s dynamic trio.
Expect also Bastian Schweinsteiger to get close to Xabi Alonso – a duel of pass-masters that might be the making or breaking of this tie. Madrid have weaknesses mostly in their wing-back positions with Alvaro Arbeloa and especially Marcelo often guilty of being caught high up the pitch. These are spaces Bayern can exploit ruthlessly provided the midfield can move the ball to Ribery and Robben fast. Isolating Sergio Ramos and Pepe in one-on-one situations look like Bayern’s best bet.
Cristiano Ronaldo v Phillip Lahm: The marauding Portuguese up against the wily German should provide a microcosm of what we are to expect in the opening Group B fixture at the Euros. Ronaldo is a phenomenon, extremely hard to keep quiet, but if anyone can, Lahm can. Wily and elusive, Lahm will look to put the pressure back on the Portuguese with some attacking of his own.
Arjen Robben v Marcelo: If the Brazilian plays, Arjen Robben will be licking his lips. Strong on the attack and even on one-on-ones, Marcelo’s big weakness is his positional discipline. Robben can thrive in those spaces, provided he gets the adequate service and is not too selfish. Plus he has a bone to pick against Madrid. And he has much to make up for to Bayern fans.
Bastian Schweinsteiger v Xabi Alonso: Although it’s more likely that Schweinsteiger will be up directly against counterpart Sami Khedira, his metronomic tendencies from the back is the elixir of life for Bayern. The story is the same for Xabi Alonso and it is safe to say that whichever of these players come out on top will take their team with them.
You can find more historical stats and background on Bayern and Real Madrid here.
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