The moment is almost here. Bayern’s highly anticipated semi-final against Real Madrid CF will take centre stage on Wednesday in Munich. The Reds’ lineup will no doubt include the top guns to shock the defending champions, who are deemed by most to be favourites.
Bayern will go into this match with full focus, having been training behind closed doors since the weekend match against Hannover 96. This is undoubtedly the most important match of the season for the German champions. After the mauling of Bayer Leverkusen last week, treble talk is rife at Säbener Strasse. The Reds are still unbeaten at home in all competitions this season, notching 18 wins and 3 draws in that period.
Inasmuch as this is the biggest challenge yet for the champions, it is one they can put to bed with the right performance. Jupp Heynckes has been coy, and buoyant in his speech in the past few days, giving you the sense the football sage has something cooking behind the scenes. If he topples Real Madrid successfully, he would be only the third coach to win the European gong thrice, alongside (the infamous) Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley.
Real Madrid have met Bayern in 24 Champions League matches, with the head-to-head record even. Eleven wins each for both sides, and two draws, with Real having 37 goals to Bayern’s 36. This is a close and classic European encounter, with Los Blancos winning on their last trip to the Allianz Arena. The holders are seeking to win an unprecedented third consecutive trophy, and Bayern seem to be the only opponents who can truly stop them.
- Boy, do we have a list. Arturo Vidal’s season has sadly been put to an end after an unfortunate knee injury picked up in training;
- Kingsley Coman has been off crutches for a while now but still needs a few more weeks to make his return;
- Manuel Neuer also needs just a short while more to recuperate, as his steady training has been going to plan;
- Corentin Tolisso and David Alaba all trained partially this week, but it still remains to be seen if they can make appearances in this game.
Heynckes’ pre-match comments
- The coach was wary of the “tough opposition” standing in the way of a glorious season for the team, but his optimism was also high. He said, “Real Madrid have won the title twice in succession so they have a slight advantage. But we are in very good shape, we’re having an outstanding season and we want to round that off by going through to the Champions League final next Tuesday.”
- Jupp also spoke concerning the respective injuries of Corentin Tolisso (shin) and David Alaba (thigh), saying: “We’ll make a decision on Wednesday morning on their being in the squad or not.” The boss said he still had to go through “his final thoughts” in terms of team selection.
Depending on what strategy Jupp Heynckes maps out for the team, it is highly likely he will stick to the resurgent 4-1-4-1 formation that has brought such a rich vein of form. Real Madrid are equally hard to predict, as they could also field a 4-4-2 formation. In such a game, being clinical with chances is a sure way to hurt Los Blancos, as the 4-1-4-1 provides a host of attacking strengths and chance creation opportunities.
It also brings organization and lesser spaces at the back, with the prowess of the defensive midfielder. There surely will be chances, as Real Madrid are known for their vulnerability at the back. Somehow, their defence manages to scrape through its mediocrity to survive in most Champions League matches. If Bayern are to win, taking chances and being defensively compact (as they were against PSG) have to be the mantra.
Here is a lineup to go with that game plan.
Trust in the reborn Rafinha
In the past month, Rafinha has earned himself an extra year in Munich. He recently stated that contract talks are ongoing and looking good with the board, and he certainly has been playing like it. He saved the team from an albeit far-fetched upset against Sevilla and has been in imperious form in the Bundesliga and Pokal.
As David Alaba’s fitness concerns have arisen, I am placing hands on my chest and backing Rafinha to see out the best opposition in his stellar form. Joshua Kimmich also starts on the right, and needs no motivation whatsoever to go out there and claim his throne as the world’s best young right-back. This will be his first Champions League semi-final match, and young Lahminho needs to bring the heat.
Matches do not get any bigger than Wednesday’s tie, and as such, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng have to deliver. In past weeks, they have both been jittery in about half of matches played, and this presents itself as a stern test to see if they really are to be considered one of the finest centre-back pairings we have seen in recent memory.
Sven the Wall stays in goal, nothing to see here.
All eyes on James
There has been so much talk on social media and in the press concerning the returns of so many players to potentially haunt their former clubs. James epitomizes this perfectly, as his return to top class, all guns blazing form has wowed his fans all over the world. He has played just enough minutes in the past weeks to keep him fresh for this fixture, and I say kudos to Osram for managing players excellently on all fronts. He should be a monster in midfield along with Thomas “Player of the Month” Müller.
The Captain has been enjoying a free-scoring and assisting run of late. If Cristiano Ronaldo is on a hot streak, I would also advise Madridistas not to snooze on Müller, with the German averaging two-goal involvements per game in his last four matches. His chemistry with James should be a total treat for fans of the game tomorrow.
On the wings, Robbery takes the stage. Arjen Robben has not been playing too well in his last few games, but the Dutchman has the power to draw upon his insatiable Champions League hunger to beat Marcelo severely on the left. His compatriot, however, is the sure bet to start this game, as his Ferrari mode has been unstoppable thus far. Dani Carvajal should have a torrid 90 minutes if Franck Ribéry really does turn on fifth-gear.
When Arturo Vidal got injured, I barely shuddered for the sake of the team. My disappointment was rooted in his season having come to an abrupt, devastating end, with how desperate he had been to take revenge on Real Madrid. Nonetheless, I knew that Javi Martínez was always going to be the very first name on the team sheet, as firmly deserved. The Spaniard is the best central defensive midfielder left in the competition, and Bayern’s treble hopes depend—to a large extent—on how well he marshals the role.
Of course, he starts.
39 goals and counting…
In Jupp Heynckes’ press conference, reporters asked about Cristiano Ronaldo’s scary numbers. After gracefully answering the question, the boss pointed out the fact that Robert Lewandowski is a man of equal standing, with his goals on track to surpass the current tally of 39.
The Pole has been working dramatically hard for this fixture, and if he wants to best CR7 in this one, he will need to shrug off Sergio Ramos and be as clinical as he has ever been. He was absent in the first leg last year, which afforded Madrid almost a field day in defence. They will be wary of him, as four years ago on this very day, Lewy put four goals past Madrid in Dortmund’s 2012-13 semi-final.
After last year’s erroneous and unfortunate exit at the hands of atrocious refereeing, Bayern are in better shape than ever to fire past Real Madrid, and expose their frailties. While many consider the Spaniards as the favourites, they may end up as shocked as Barcelona were the last time they encountered a Jupp Heynckes side.
In their own words, Vamos Bayern!