Soccer

Champions League Semifinal Preview: Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid

This matchup captures European soccer’s quintessence. Two clubs with inordinate resources crushed their inferiors to get here, so they could play for yet further prestige and millions to heighten their already disproportionate advantage. The system is corrupt and insidious, and we can’t get enough of it. Screw parity.

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have combined for 13 European Cup wins and 20 final appearances. They have met a record 18 times in European competition. This will be their fifth meeting in a European Cup semifinal.

Real Madrid Form: Real Madrid are 27-2-4 in La Liga and lead Barcelona by four points. Their recent form can be viewed two ways. Glass half-empty: Madrid have drawn three of their last seven league matches, poor by their standards. Glass half-full: they have won four of their last five by multiple goals. Cristiano Ronaldo has eight goals and three assists in his last five matches. His 41 league goals are more than teammates Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema combined. Those two are fourth and fifth in La Liga in scoring.

Bayern Munich Form: The Bavarians have been disappointing, as they are any year they don’t win the Bundesliga. They are 20-7-4 in the Bundesliga this season. After being held scoreless and dropping five points in their past two matches, Bayern have fallen eight points behind leaders Dortmund.

Tactics: Both teams use a similar 4-2-3-1 formation. Both rely on great wide forwards – either Ronaldo and Di Maria/Benzema or Robben and Ribery. Both teams can score with anyone. Bayern, though improved from 2010, are a bit shakier defensively. In the 2010 final, Mourinho deployed Wesley Sneijder high up the pitch, just behind lead striker Diego Milito to create havoc by drawing Bayern’s defenders and midfielders out of position. Expect him to try a similar tactic with Mesut Ozil.

Can Real Madrid Beat Anyone Good? This question seems bizarre, but it’s worth asking. Real Madrid’s Champions League group contained Lyon, Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb. They drew CSKA Moscow and APOEL in the first two knockout stages. Failing to win three times this season against Barcelona, they have yet to beat a top-tier team in Spain, Germany, England or Italy.

Which Bayern Team Will Show Up? When Bayern Munich click it can be magical. They were dominant early in the season. They scored 20 goals  in a week in March. The great periods, however, have been bookended by futile stretches, with poor chemistry off the pitch manifesting itself on it. That said, their league troubles have affected them little in Europe. Bayern fought their way through a tough group draw with Man City and Napoli and have outscored knockout stage opponents 11-1.

Compelling Storylines: Either team advancing would add interest to the final. Real Madrid would set up the Clasico of the Century if Barcelona advance. Bayern Munich would play a Champions League Final at their home stadium.

Old Acquaintances: Bayern’s coach Jupp Heynckes was Real Madrid coach when the club won the 1997-98 Champions League.

The Past: Real Madrid is 0-8-1 in nine away trips to Bayern Munich, but, as Jose Mourinho points out, “the past is full of meaningless numbers.”

Prediction: Real Madrid 3-2 Bayern agg*

[Photos via Getty]

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