A match. A meaningful match. The first of three remaining meaningful matches. Record champion against record champion. Most despised club of Germany against most despised club of Spain. FC Bayern München against Real Madrid CF.
The similarities are so obvious. Too obvious. Opposites attract, the difference between Bayern and Madrid just isn’t big enough for any love, although some fans surely disagree. In the eyes of Bayern fans, Madrid are the indebted club where cheating is a vital part of success. In the eyes of Madrid fans, Bayern are the entity embodying ugly, physical, heartless German football where the focus lies on destroying the opponents.
In reality, most of these opinions are outdated or have never been the truth. Aside from the former political roles of the club, Bayern as one of the ‘jew clubs’ fighting against the Nazi regime (real fighting of course wasn’t possible without putting the own lives and the existence of the club in massive danger so a more subtle, reactive strategy of reluctance had to be chosen) as opposed to Real Madrid as the big Franco-backed club, and the financial strategies, the rather conservative FCB (never spend more than what you have) and the progressive if not aggressive RM (spend more now to increase revenue even further), the two clubs actually have a lot in common. Both are either loved or hated in their respective countries, not only because of extreme success and wealth but also because of being loud-mouthed (FCB) and being profiteers of history (RM).
Speaking of history, the one these two sides share is intense. Starting with the European Cup semifinal of 1976 when Madrid couldn’t stop Bayern on their way to the third title in a row (2-0 home win after 1-1 draw in Madrid), the rivalry took off in the late 1980s. In 1987, the club met again in the semifinal, Bayern again prevailed (although they lost the final that time, an extremely unnecessary 1-2 against Porto). But, as if the result wasn’t enough (Bayern had scored 3 goals in the first 37 minutes), the real outrage was the red card against genius striker but sometimes, as in this case, also lunatic Juanito following an extremely disgraceful assault on Lothar Matthäus (Youtube clip) that resulted in a 5-year ban from all international competitions. The remainder of that match (4-1 FCB, red card Mino) and the second leg (1-0 RM, red card Augenthaler) were more war than football.
When, exactly one year later, the clubs met again for the quarterfinal, people were anticipating more than just two matches. And they were right. While, almost miraculously, nobody was sent off, the two legs deserve the name ‘epic fight’. Bayern conceded two late goals at home to ruin the perfect 3-0 scoreline and the second leg at Bernabeu was hell. Madrid won 2-0 to proceed to the semis in what can be described as cruel psychological warfare. The German machines, the so-called bestia negra was finally beaten, although these battles proved to be too demanding when the Spaniards were eliminated by PSV in the semifinal.
Just when one might’ve thought that the rivalry is dead, the early 2000s happened. Group stage, Bayern v Madrid, for the first time without immediate knockout for the loser. The reds were brilliant, they dominated both matches and beat Real 4-2 in Madrid and 4-1 at home. But that was just the group stage and when the teams faced each other once again in the semifinal, these wins turned out to be worthless. Madrid won the third edition 2-0 at home, Bayern’s 2-1 victory in the second leg, the third win in four matches that season, wasn’t enough, the Galacticos made it to the final and won the trophy against Valencia. One year later, it happened again. 2001 CL semifinals, Real Madrid v FC Bayern. Two intense games, both successful for Bayern who then won the final against, you know it, Valencia.
Again and again, Munich against Madrid. Rigged draws or higher powers, it was an inevitable fixture almost every year. In 2002 and 2004, a home win in the second leg was enough for Madrid to eliminate Bayern. Then, just as it again seemed to cool off a bit, the clubs again faced off in the round of 16 in 2007. Two matches famous for one moment each, the last-minute goal and following celebration by former Barca player Mark van Bommel in the first leg (Madrid won 3-2) and Roy Makaay’s fastest goal in the history of the Champions League after 10 seconds (Bayern won 2-1 and proceeded to the quarterfinals where they were eliminated by Milan).
Now it’s time for another classic, of course a semifinal. Both teams have all important players available. Bayern will have to do without the injured backup center backs Daniel van Buyten and Breno, the former expected to return soon, whereas Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit enough to play (although it’s highly doubtful if he’s already at 100%). For Madrid, winger Angel di Maria has returned just in time after a thigh injury kept him sidelined for some time. Ricardo Carvalho and Lassana Diarra both missed the last month due to injuries but are working on their comebacks.
Suspension-wise, Jose Mourinho has nothing to worry about. Not a single player is one yellow card away from facing a one-match ban. Jupp Heynckes on the other hand might have to deal with bigger problems, five regulars (Boateng, Alaba, Gustavo, Kroos, Müller) have been booked twice so far and would miss the second leg or maybe even the final once the next booking occurs. Once again, I have to mention how utterly ridiculous this rule is. How can anyone even at UEFA think that missing key players in the most important matches of the year due to a yellow card is a good idea, especially when we’re talking about the laughable number of three yellow cards in, assuming that a team makes it to the final, twelve matches. Should a player have to miss the potentially biggest match of his career because of one yellow card every four matches? Ludicrous.
The man who might be forced to ruin a dream will be Howard Webb. The Englishman is one of the most famous referees worldwide. You either hate him or…erm…to be fair, he seems to be a nice guy. Bayern have won only one of the five matches he has been responsible for so far (3-2 v Lyon, 1-1 v Getafe, 0-0 v Juventus, 0-2 v Inter, 0-4 v Barcelona). Not a single penalty or sending off occurred in any of these matches, Bayern averaged almost 2 yellow cards per match (9 in 5). It is, surprisingly, only the third Real Madrid match Howard Webb will referee. The first two were a 2-1 home win against Werder Bremen and a 2-2 draw against Milan at San Siro. Again, no penalties or red cards, both times exactly one booking for Madrid.
Looking at the recent form, Bayern failed to convince me in any of the recent matches (ignoring the unimportant one v Mainz, even victories over Augsburg, Nürnberg and to some extent Hannover were disappointing performances), the offense is struggling to create clear-cut chances and exert pressure and the midfield is desperately looking to dominate and penetrate again. Aside from the less stringent positioning, especially Robben and Ribery move away from their wing quite often, this looks a lot like the paltry offense I had to criticize so many times (key words: no vertical movement, no pressure, hardly any overloading). On a positive note: The defense is pretty solid, the aforementioned matches all could’ve been lost with a weaker defense.
Madrid might not be at their best, either, but are still doing a lot better than Bayern. They needed two late goals to beat Gijon but just a few days earlier won the derby against Atletico in convincing fashion (4-1). The offensive firepower, I don’t think I have to list the names, guarantees that they always score at least one goal (unless they play against Valencia). If a player is out of form, another star enters the pitch to replace him. This is maybe the biggest difference between the two teams, the squad depth. Real Madrid can rest key players and still field a vastly superior eleven while Jupp Heynckes operates with a trusted core of maybe 15 players.
Bayern’s starting lineup is pretty obvious, the only question is whether he fields Bastian Schweinsteiger or Thomas Müller. Based on Müller’s recent performances, I expect the former. Jose Mourinho surely will opt for Fabio Coentrao as left-back since he’s a better defender than Marcelo, something that is certainly needed against Arjen Robben. Assuming that he uses a 4-2-3-1 system, I’m not sure who the starting right midfielder will be. Is Angel di Maria ready for 90 minutes of Champions League football? Anything but Hamit Altintop seems to be possible. Here are the potential starting lineups:
Lahm – Boateng – Badstuber – Alaba
Gustavo – Schweinsteiger
Robben – Kroos – Ribery
Ronaldo – Özil – di Maria
Alonso – Khedira
Coentrao – Pepe – Ramos – Arbeloa
Personally, I disagree with anyone who says this is a 50/50 duel and think that the Spaniards are favorites. A less predictable offense, better form, deeper squad and, something that always was Bayern’s main advantage, a bigger winning mentality. I said it on Twitter prior to the Dortmund match, I don’t expect a win because, while they will of course give it everything, this Bayern side seems to lack the mental strength, the indomitable will to win a match no matter what happens. Call it a baseless accusation, call it pop psychology, it is my opinion, my observation and I’d love to see the players prove me wrong.
To not end the preview with such negative statements, here are encouraging stats: Bayern have won every of the five (six if you count the qualifying round) Champions League home matches this season and have yet to lose against Real Madrid, with eight wins and one draw at home. And let’s be honest, the black CL shirts were made for this moment. Revive la bestia negra.