The FourFourTwo Preview: Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid
If possession is nine tenths of the law, then the law’s an ass. You’ve probably read that Bayern Munich had a fair bit of a ball in last Wednesday’s first leg at the Bernabeu – 72%, so it goes. Pep Guardiola’s men probed and prodded and pressed, but none of that really mattered.
BAYERN MUNICH FORM
- Bayern 5-2 Werder Bremen (Lge)
- Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern (Cup)
- Braunschweig 0-2 Bayern (Lge)
- Bayern 5-1 Kaiserslautern (Cup)
- Bayern 0-3 Dortmund (Lge)
REAL MADRID FORM
- Real Madrid 4-0 Osasuna (Lge)
- Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern (Cup)
- Barca 1-2 Real Madrid (Cup)
- Real Madrid 4-0 Almeria (Lge)
- Dortmund 2-0 Real Madrid (Cup)
Real Madrid played their part to perfection, and some of the “but they haven’t had the ball!!!” surprise when Karim Benzema finished off a brilliantly executed counter-attack in the 19th minute was a bit much, because it wasn’t exactly new.
Bayern, relentless on all fronts until dropping their guard upon winning the Bundesliga back on March 25, have had a few sharp digs in the ribs of late.
Manchester United provided two of them in the quarter-finals, the expected response coming quickly enough in each case. This time it didn’t quite materialise, although Real had to be present and correct with innumerable interceptions, blocks and crafty nudges.
In fact, Bayern can consider themselves a mite fortunate to be going into this with a fighting chance. Cristiano Ronaldo – 50% fit last week according to his manager, but still Cristiano Ronaldo – lashed a great chance wildly over soon after Benzema’s goal, and the tireless Angel di Maria passed up on an even better opportunity before the break.
Ronaldo tested Manuel Neuer a couple of times in the second half, too, and in some ways it’s difficult to say that Bayern “dominated” the match when Real’s gameplan, obvious to all, worked so effectively.
That said, you always get one chance – and Mario Gotze fluffed his seven minutes from time when Iker Casillas made a decent save from his close-range volley.
So where does all this leave us? Bayern haven’t really sparkled in the knockout stages, and the Allianz Arena doesn’t hold the fear it might have earlier in the season. Although they were content to Do Enough against Arsenal, it took them an hour to wake from their slumber against United and you feel they’ll need a quick start this time around.
Winning four in nine since claiming the league title is cause for concern: the worry is that, when the impacts of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are limited, their intricate approach play can appear a bit one-note. That’s all the more apparent when you’re up against Real, who can turn defence into attack in a millisecond.
Real have been a bit of a mixed bag on the road. Their mini-tour of the Ruhr saw Schalke demolished 6-1 in the last 16, before Borussia Dortmund – 3-0 down from the first leg – gave them an almighty scare in the quarters. Unlike Bayern, though, they’re being kept honest domestically – an almighty title tussle with city rivals Atletico can’t do bad things for your competitive edge, which might explain their extra attacking sharpness. The lesson to take is that both sides will need to be operating at maximum intensity. They’re unlikely to disappoint.
Player to watch: Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
Bayern will need all the changes of speed they can get, and to do that they’ll have to get more out of the Dutch winger. Robben was superbly marshaled by Fabio Coentrao and Isco in the first leg, and equally well snuffed out by Real’s central players when attempting his trademark cut-in-and-shoot from the right. He claimed after the game he “expected more” from Real Madrid, but the onus is on him now: Robben’s reputation as big-game bottler may have been consigned to the past by last year’s winner in the final, but the stakes are almost as high this time – and his former employers’ pace down the flanks will need to be more than responded to in kind.
Guardiola might be on a bit of a hiding to nothing just now. Lose, and it’s comeuppance for being all clever-clever with us – what’s all that ‘full-backs in midfield’ malarkey, eh? – while winning has very much become the minimum. He didn’t appear all that perturbed by the first-leg outcome, instead praising his team’s commitment to bravery on the ball. "I wanted them to show they are real footballers, to take the ball and play, then play again," he said. "You might not believe me, but I am proud of my players."
Carlo Ancelotti has the whip hand here, but you wouldn’t know it. "We have a bit of an advantage, but nobody can say what is going to happen," he opined. Can’t say fairer than that. Give the media anything less, and his odds for the Man United job will plummet.
It’s hard to see either side not scoring, which would mean Bayern require three. They won’t quite manage that. 2-1, a defeat on away goals, and Real’s first final since 2002.