What is at stake?
Bayern Munich host Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie on Wednesday aiming to secure a healthy advantage to take to Spain for the return game next week.
The Bundesliga club last won the competition in 2013, while Madrid have lifted the trophy twice in the last two seasons, making them the two-time defending champions. Bayern booked their place in the last four with a 2-1 aggregate success over Sevilla, but Madrid had to overcome an almighty scare against Juventus before sealing a 4-3 victory overall, on that now infamous penalty in stoppage time. In light of the eliminations of heavy favorites Manchester City and FC Barcelona, these two historic juggernauts can consider themselves quite unlucky to play what could be best described as a final at the semifinal stage. Despite being fixtures in the final four of the Champions League in the last two decades, both are coming to the matchup on the back of topsy-turvy campaigns: Real who were declared the prohibitive La Liga favorites after Barcelona’s summer transfer and board misery were out of the running for the title before the end of the calendar year with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring just a handful of goals. Bayern fired Carlo Ancelotti after a series of embarrassing defeats (Hoffenheim, PSG) and personality clashes and cajoled 72-year-old Jupp Heynckes out of retirement. Heynckes had helped re-establish Madrid’s reputation in Europe by winning the Champions League in 1998 after a 32-year gap. However, he was sacked just eight days later when his side finished fourth in La Liga during his single season in charge. Bayern, who have already won the Bundesliga title and the German Cup, are bidding to complete the treble in Heynckes’ fourth spell in the hot seat. This will be the third time since 2011/12 that the two sides have faced each other in the Champions League semi-finals, with Bayern progressing that season and Madrid in 2013/14. The German club will take heart from Heynckes’ home record in the Champions League, with the veteran boss winning 14 and drawing one of his 16 matches at the Allianz Arena.
His fourth spell at Bayern has been a roaring success, taking over from Ancelotti who had given him a five point deficit with 7 games played, which the 72-year-old turned into a 20 point advantage.That same Ancelotti (with assistant coach Zinedine Zidane at his side) who of course brought Real to UCL glory by overcoming Atletico Madrid in 2014 after smashing Bayern 5-0 on aggregate in the semis. Ancelotti was of course the Bayern coach last year in that ill-fated quarterfinal clash that the Munich faithful are blaming on Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai. That is definitely still a sore spot in Munich. Not that Bayern are in need of extra motivation but German media has been going crazy with the hype: kicker devoted its first 15 pages to the match! Coral betting sees the home side priced at Evens to win the first leg, with Madrid on offer at 5/2 and the draw available at 11/4.
Bayern have been dealt a big blow with midfielder Arturo Vidal out of action after injuring his knee in training. The Chilean has since had knee surgery and his season is over. The German champions will also be without Kingsley Coman (out since requiring ankle surgery after the Hertha match) and star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer , who had only recently began training again. Defender David Alaba has also been left out of the squad with Brazilian Rafinha set to replace him. Based on the latest training, Heynckes is likely to field a 4-1-4-1 with Javi Martinez in the defensive midfielder role and James getting the nod ahead of Thiago in midfield. A lot will depend on the effectiveness of the Ribéry-Robben duo, and Bayern fans are hoping that a combined 69 years of age the duo has one last hurrah in them. Thomas Müller’s encouraging recent form (hat-trick in the cup) and Robert Lewandowski being Robert Lewandowski are also excellent signs!
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Nacho is the only injury absentee for Madrid and neither side has any players suspended for the match. The main threat to Bayern’s hopes of progressing to the final will undoubtedly be Cristiano Ronaldo. He has scored at least one goal in each of his last 11 games in the Champions League – the longest scoring streak in the competition’s history. The 33-year-old was the star of the show when the two sides met in last year’s quarter-finals, scoring five times over the two legs as Madrid secured a 6-3 aggregate success. In terms of tactics, Zidane is expected to field his diamond 4-4-2 with Casemiro at the base and Isco at the top – flanked by the playmaking of Kroos and Modric. Marcelo and Carvajal will be keys in this game, as they are expected to deal with Robben and Ribéry and support the attack. Real will be looking for the all-important away goal probably via counterattacks that could hurt Bayern.
The winners will face either Liverpool or Roma in the final in Kiev on May 26, with the Premier League side in pole position to progress after recording a 5-2 victory in the first leg at Anfield on Tuesday.