Real Madrid. Bayern Munich. 14 European Titles combined. 56 Domestic League Titles combined. 2 legendary clubs. 1 goal. Whenever two of the biggest clubs in Europe get together, it is a dazzling event. It becomes monumental when a berth in the Champions League Final is at stake.
Despite all the glamour that is attached to these two sides, questions abound. Especially for Real Madrid. Gareth Bale, who was the hero for Real Madrid in their Copa del Rey final victory against Barcelona, suddenly went down with the flu during training. The Welsh International and former Tottenham star, is a breathtaking player on his best day, and if he can’t make the lineup, it could be a major blow for Real Madrid.
The other question surrounds Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar, and arguably the best player in the world, has missed the last 4 matches with knee and hamstring issues. However, Ronaldo did participate in training and manager Carlo Ancelotti is expected to write Ronaldo’s name on the team sheet on Wednesday.
Madrid like to use a 4-3-3 formation with Ronaldo and Bale flanking Karim Benzema in the middle. Isco is an option if Bale isn’t available, but whether the young Spaniard can handle the pressure cooker of a Champions League semifinal is something that Ancelotti may not want to find out.
The midfield might see a change as well. Angel di Maria may move up to join Benzema and Ronaldo if Bale is scratched. The Argentine International is a versatile player who is more suited in the midfield, but can move up to a forward spot if need be.
Luka Modric is a dynamic, creative midfielder that can create chaos for opposing defenders. However, the Croatian International has been bereft around the goal, with only 2 goals in all competitions this season.
Xabi Alonso is expected to sit back as the central holding midfielder, but the Spanish stalwart had difficulty keeping pace against Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Casemiro could be an option, but the Brazilian International lacks poise and structure at this moment. Only 22, Casemiro has a bright future, and could be used as a substitute. Veteran Sami Khedira may be a better option if Alonso falters.
The back four is vulnerable and can be exploited. Perhaps no player has been more disappointing for Real Madrid than Pepe. The Portuguese central defender, has had a miserable season for Los Blancos, looking slow and clumsy in his challenges. With Bayern’s devastating midfield capable of shredding any defence thrown at them, Pepe will need support from Sergio Ramos to slow down the Bayern attack.
Fabio Coentrao and Daniel Carvajal are expected to start at left and right back respectively. Carvajal is prone to get caught out of position, as he joins the attack with reckless abandon at times. Bayern love to use the flanks on counter attacks, so both players will have to be disciplined to guard the wings.
Iker Casillas is the likely man between the sticks, but do not discount the possibility of Diego Lopez getting the call. Casillas has not played back-to-back games this season, but is Ancelotti’s choice in European competition. Lopez is a quality keeper, who could be used if Ancelotti decides to keep his rotation in tact.
Bayern have used various formations throughout the season, depending on opponent, tactics and availability. Manager Pep Guaridola has gone all over the map with his formations, from a 4-3-3, to a 4-2-3-1, to a 4-1-4-1. Early reports suggest that Pep may go with a 4-1-4-1 look, but may flex out of that if need be.
Mario Mandzukic is expected to be the lone striker up front. The Croatian International leads the club with 25 goals in all competitions and could be the proper player, to get under the skin of the volatile Pepe.
Bayern’s midfield is swarming with possibilities. Thomas Muller is having a brilliant season for Die Roten, notching 24 goals in all competitions. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are simply lethal on the flanks. Toni Kroos can either sit back, or go in attack mode at a moment’s notice. Mario Gotze is a creative genius. A plethora of riches for Bayern, which leads to some difficult choices for Guardiola.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is a clear choice for holding midfielder. The German International missed the second leg against Manchester United due to suspension. Schweinsteiger is fully fit and desperately wants to make a positive contribution for the Bavarians. Javi Martinez is an option as a second holding midfielder, if Guaridola goes with a 4-3-3, or a 4-2-3-1.
The back is a solid quartet. Philipp Lahm remains one of the best right backs in the world, even though he has seen time at left back, and as a holding midfielder. David Alaba is the likely choice at left back. The Austrian International is enjoying a fine season with Bayern. Dante and Jerome Boateng are expected to form a partnership at central defence.
Manuel Neuer will get the start between the sticks. The German keeper hasn’t had a clean sheet since March 22, but he hasn’t had to be perfect. Neuer will see pressure from Ronaldo and company but he has had success against Madrid before, stoning them in penalties in 2012, which lifted Bayern Munich over Real Madrid in the semifinals.
Real Madrid’s dramatic victory over Barcelona in the Copa del Ray as many observers thinking they will carry over that momentum into Europe. But with Gareth Bale’s fitness an issue, that momentum could be easily diffused. Ronaldo may not be 100%, but he’s better at 80% than most players at 100%. But Bayern Munich are a machine. Already wrapping up the Bundesliga title in record time, Bayern can totally focus on the Champions League without the distractions of their domestic league. Granted, Bayern still have the DFB-Pokal Cup final against Borussia Dortmund on their plate, but that isn’t till May 18. Meanwhile, Real Madrid still have dreams of a La Liga title. Sitting six points adrift of Atletico Madrid, Real will need a miracle to overtake their city rivals, as well as second place Barcelona, in order to win the league. With that said, this is Bayern’s tie to lose. Bayern Munich win both legs and go to Lisbon for the final.
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