The UEFA Champions League is into the semi-finals, and the fixtures are eye-catching. Two colossal clubs, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid will lock up in a semi-final quarrel that has supporters from both sides numb with excitement. Both sides share great history, Bayern Munich have won the European Cup 4 times, Real Madrid have hoisted the trophy with big ears a record 9 times. Both sides have superstars that can take over a match in a heartbeat. This has all the makings of a memorable tie.
Bayern Munich reached the semi-finals by finishing top of the table in Group A, which they followed with stirring results over FC Basel and Marseille in the knockout stage and quarterfinals respectively. Real Madrid easily conquered Group D, then trashed CSKA Moscow and APOEL Nicosia, in the knockout and quarterfinal rounds.
While Bayern have laboured domestically at times, they have played their best football in Europe and will provide stern opposition for Madrid. Striker Mario Gomez in particular has been splendid for Die Roten. The German International has found the back of the net 11 times in Europe second behind Lionel Messi of Barcelona. What Gomez lacks in flair, he supplies in brutal efficiency. Thomas Muller will most likely partner up with Gomez but don’t be surprised if Croatian International Ivica Olic sees time on the pitch.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is the talisman of the midfield for Munich. He can do just about everything from the centre of the pitch with aplomb. For tactical purposes, Schweinsteiger may sit back to guard against a Madrid side that loves to attack. If that is the case, Bayern will look upon Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos to furnish the attack from the midfield. If Bayern decides not to shadow Ronaldo, then look for Schweinsteiger to join the attack and push the Madrid midfielders back to a defensive posture. Robben will be pushing forward with his darting runs along the flank. The Dutch International has scored 3 times in European competition and his speed poses a huge challenge for Real Madrid. Ribery is the creative mastermind of the midfield, providing quality service for his teammates. Kroos possess a thundering right boot which can mesmerize keepers.
Phillip Lahm captains the back four and will need to be at his pragmatic peak, in order for Bayern to advance. Lahm’s task will be demanding as he will be called upon to mark Cristiano Ronaldo. If anyone is up to the assignment, it is the Bayern captain. Joining Lahm is Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Rafina. This is a stout group that has only yielded 2 goals in their last 6 matches. Keeper Manuel Neuer is a rising star on the back line and could be the final piece to Bayern’s European puzzle.
Real Madrid begins and ends with Cristiano Ronaldo. The brilliant Portuguese superstar is the engine that drives Los Blancos. Ronaldo paces the club with 8 goals in Europe. Whether it be on a surging run along the flank, exquisite ball-handling through the centre of the pitch, or going into the air for a loose header, Ronaldo can do it all.
The scary part is, Madrid have options in the goal scoring department. Karim Benzema, Jose Callejon and Gonzlao Higuain are superb around the net and are strong finishers. With 7, 5 and 3 goals respectively, Bayern cannot concentrate on Ronaldo alone. They must account for the “unknown” trio.
Madrid will rely on Mesut Ozil to provide the service for his attackers. The German International will have his hands full against Bayern and this should be a fascinating matchup. Kaka was thought to be over the hill, but the Brazilian has shown exemplary form in Europe, even providing 3 goals in the competition. Madrid won’t have Lasanna Diarra who didn’t make the trip to Munich due to injury. Sami Khedira or Xabi Alonso will see quality minutes in his place.
The back four won’t have the services of Ricardo Carvalho, who will miss the first leg due to injury. It is a major blow for Madrid has Carvalho, when healthy, provides stringent defending. Pepe and Raphael Varane will need to step up their form against a strong Bayern side. Sergio Ramos will have an arduous exercise in trying to contain Robben’s darting runs. Ramos is an excellent right back and is capable of performing this thankless duty.
Iker Casillas remains one of the best keepers in the world and will be leaned on to thwart Bayern’s scoring opportunities. He will see more pressure than he did in previous fixtures in Europe but the Madrid captain is more than up to the challenge.
Prediction: Very tough to call. Both sides are loaded with quality and both believe they can win the competition. There is extra pressure on Bayern as they are hosting the Champions League final next month and would love nothing more than to be part of it. That said, Real Madrid are formidable and have steamrolled the competition so far. They won’t run through Bayern like they have previous opponents but I do see Real Madrid getting the result they need in Munich and winning a close second leg at home. Real Madrid is the pick, but I wouldn’t wager large money on it.
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