Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid: Preview, team news and key battles
Real Madrid will have to overcome a strong Bayern Munich side in their chase for three successive UEFA Champions League titles as the two sides face off tonight in the first leg of the semifinal.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for these two elite clubs. While Bayern recently won their record sixth Bundesliga title, Real Madrid find themselves third in the La Liga table, four points behind cross-city rivals Atletico albeit with a game in hand.
For both, though, the Champions League represents the Holy Grail. Bayern Munich, having won in 2013, have subsequently failed to win the coveted trophy despite having Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti at the helm in the subsequent years. Their manager back in 2013? Jupp Heynckes, who returned to coach them this season after Ancelotti was fired earlier this season.
As far as Real Madrid are concerned, though, the Champions League title has become an expectation. Even with a shaky domestic campaign this season, they remain the favourites: Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 15 goals with the impressive record of scoring in every game that Real Madrid have played.
In many respects, this represents the game that many people had hoped would be the final.
Last time out...
Hannover 0-3 Bayern Munich (Bundesliga)
Having already won the league, Bayern Munich fielded a rotated side for the visit to Hannover at the weekend.
This did not hold them back, though, and they ran out comfortable 3-0 winners after three second-half goals from Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Sebastian Rudy.
With Arturo Vidal out for the remainder of the season, Heynckes experimented with Niklas Sule at CDM. It would be unlikely that he does the same on Wednesday.
Real Madrid 1-1 Athletic Club (La Liga)
With the Copa del Rey final being played last weekend, Real Madrid’s last fixture was a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu against Athletic Club.
When Iñaki Williams put the away side ahead on the 14th minute, it looked like the season-long problems that had beset Los Blancos would continue to haunt them.
However, in the 87th minute, Real’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo cheekily finished from a Luka Modric shot.
Bayern Munich Lineup
Probable XI: Ulreich, Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba, Martinez, Thiago, Robben, Muller, Rodriguez, Lewandowski
With Arturo Vidal out of action for the remainder of the season, Bayern will hope Javi Martinez provides the defensive screen in front of the backline.
Real Madrid Lineup
Probable XI: Navas, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Isco, Ronaldo, Benzema
Nacho Fernandez is the only absentee for Real Madrid with Sergio Ramos coming back from his one-match suspension.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) vs Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The predictable battle: who can score more between these two grandees of European football.
Robert Lewandowski has been prolific in the Bundesliga this season, scoring 28 goals in 28 games, an impressive 14 goals more than Hoffenheim’s Mark Uth, the next highest scorer in the league.
Interestingly, the Pole’s function in the team is clearly as goal-scorer rather than goal-provider. His assist haul over the same period is just one, picked up against Hoffenheim in January.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s season was squarely split in two. In the first half of the La Liga season, Ronaldo had only scored four goals. However, he made up for lost time in the second half of the season, scoring an incredible 20 goals.
In the Champions League, he has had no such worries. His 15 goals so far have come in 10 games with the Portuguese scoring at least once in every game he has played in this season.
At it’s most basic, football is about scoring more goals than the opposition. With these two on the pitch, we can be certain that there will be at least one goal.
Will James Rodriguez turn up against his parent club?
James Rodriguez has been a revelation for Bayern this season since arriving on loan from Real Madrid in the summer.
Where the Colombian had set himself up as a goal scorer in the early stages of his career, his function at Bayern Munich has been that of a creator, with the youngster picking up ten assists in 21 games with a further six goals on the side.
With the midfielder available to the German champions on a first option to buy after the season ends, this could be his chance to impress his current club and his former club.
Will Sergio Ramos make the difference?
When Real Madrid nearly capitulated from their 3-0 away win at the Allianz Stadium when they played in the return leg at the Bernabeu, the big difference between the two sides was Sergio Ramos, who was missing through suspension.
On Wednesday, the question will be: will the Spaniard make the clear difference that so many people claimed he would make in the quarter-finals?
If it does prove to be the case that it was he who was the difference, Bayern Munich will have their work cut out. Without Ramos, Real Madrid looked very fragile indeed at the back.