Oh boy, it’s the big one already. These two sides might have been pre-tournament final picks for many, but instead those disgruntled souls will have to put up with a glittering semi-final showdown instead.
Barca 1-2 Real Madrid (Cup)
Real Madrid 4-0 Almeria (Lge)
Dortmund 2-0 Real Madrid (Cup)
Sociedad 0-4 Real Madrid (Lge)
Real Madrid 3-0 Dortmund (Cup)
Braunschweig 0-2 Bayern (Lge)
Bayern 5-1 Kaiserslautern (Cup)
Bayern 0-3 Dortmund (Lge)
Augsburg 1-0 Bayern (Lge)
Man Utd 1-1 Bayern (Cup)
You can’t imagine they’ll be too upset, anyhow; in the other semi it’s bohemian favourites Atletico up against Chelsea, throwing up a range of potentially intriguing combinations for May 24’s Lisbon finale.
It’s no great secret why this one is the People’s Choice: right now they’re probably the two best sides in Europe, and each have their own significant reasons for wanting to win the competition this time. For Real Madrid it’s all about landing the 10th European crown they’ve waited 12 years for, after beating Bayer Leverkusen for a Zinedine Zidane-inspired ninth in 2002. Bayern Munich can make history of their own by becoming the first team to defend the trophy since the Champions League’s inception in 1992/93.
They met at this stage of the competition only two seasons ago, albeit with the legs reversed; both sides took 2-1 home victories before Bayern snuck through on penalties, and then saw their manner of victory turned against them by Chelsea in the final.
If the form guide is anything to go by (which it isn’t), then the early advantage falls with the hosts. The La Liga title is out of their hands for now, but a run of three straight league wins plus last Wednesday's Gareth Bale-inspired Copa del Rey final victory over Barcelona has kept spirits high. With the weekend off to prepare for this one, there'll be no excuses for weary bodies at the Bernabeu – especially with Cristiano Ronaldo set to return after a three-game knee knack that ruled him out of the Mestalla finale. Gareth Bale is back in training after the flu, but could miss out.
Over in Bavaria, Germany’s dominant force haven’t been looking so tough of late. Since winning the league, Pep Guardiola’s men hadn't won in three before Saturday's 2-0 victory at basement boys Eintracht Braunschweig, having lost back-to-back league games (including a 3-0 thrashing at home to Borussia Dortmund) after a 53-game unbeaten streak. “The players know better than me how important Champions League is,” Guardiola snapped after defeat at Augsburg. “I’m sorry: the Bundesliga is over: We have already won it.” That they have – and could add to it the DFB Pokal after last Wednesday’s 5-1 trouncing of Kaiserslautern set up a final clash against Dortmund.
It’s the third trophy they really want. But first there are a few men in the Spanish capital who’ll do anything to make sure they don’t get it.
Key battle: Daniel Carvajal vs Franck Ribery
Right-back Carvajal started both legs of Real’s quarter-final win over Dortmund, and looks set to be relied upon again in his side’s biggest game of the campaign. The 22-year-old has come a long way in a short space of time at the Bernabeu, having only made his debut for Carlo Ancelotti’s first team after Real exercised a buyback clause to bring him home from the Bundesliga after just a season.
Since then he hasn’t looked out of place, combining solidity in defence with a healthy appetite to get forward. In Europe he’s averaged more than 3 tackles per game this season, 2.1 interceptions and 2.6 clearances.
Which is all well and good, as he’ll be up against a league opponent from last season in Ribery. The Frenchman may not have caught the eye like last year, but it’s only because those high standards are taken for granted these days. No player can top his 10 Bundesliga assists this term, while in Europe he’s averaging almost 4 chances created per game. The wing-man is still sensational, and Carvajal has his work cut out.
Ancelotti was happy to roll out the worn “if we want to win the Champions League then we have to beat everyone” adage after the draw was made. It’s usually true, of course, but brings the harsh reality of a fourth straight semi-final failure ever closer. “They have a great team,” Ancelotti noted, expertly. “The semi-finals will be very difficult but it's not easy for anyone to play Real Madrid either.”
Guardiola has remained bullish since his side won the league title obscenely early. “I am not here to better Jupp Heynckes’ last year,” spat the Spaniard. “It’s not important to me if we score more goals or concede fewer. I am not here to go undefeated through a season. I am here to maintain last year’s level.”
Pep’s princes are on course to do that, but this is by far and away their biggest test of the campaign yet. “The draw is the draw,” said Guardiola. “Real Madrid are tough but we're looking forward to it. I know their team well.” That might just serve him well in his first meeting with the old foe for two years (yes, Barcelona won the last one thanks to Leo Messi’s Bernabeu hat-trick).
Facts and figures
- Real and Bayern have won 14 European Cup/Champions League titles between the two of them.
- Real and Bayern have met each other 14 times in the CL. The first-leg game will equal the record for most frequent encounter in the competition (15 between Barcelona and Milan).
- Bayern have beaten Real 8 times (out of 14 games), more than any other side in the CL.
- Bayern have lost their last 5 CL games at the Bernabeu (includes their defeat in the 2010 final against Inter).
- Real have scored the most goals in this season’s CL; 28 of the 32 netted have come from open play.
- Bayern are unbeaten in their last nine games in the knockout stages of the CL (7 wins, 2 draws).
- All 7 of Bayern's goals in this season’s knockout stages have been scored from the 54th minute onwards.
- 88% of goals conceded by Bayern in the CL this season have come in the second-half (7 out of 8).
- Arjen Robben has scored 7 goals and delivered 5 assists in his last 11 Champions League games.
- Carlo Ancelotti has never lost against Bayern as manager in the CL (4 wins, 2 draws all with Milan).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Brains, brawn and balls (the Jose Mourinho kind) required. 2-2, and advantage Bayern.
Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
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