If the meeting of the irresistible force and the immoveable object in Madrid last night proved too much for your taste and you crave some adrenalin then the second Champions League semi final on consecutive nights in the Spanish capital may prove much less resistable.
Not only is Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich one of the world’s great grudge match, the two clubs have generally disliked and envied each other for generations, the 20 previous meetings between the Spanish and Bavarian royalty have produced 59 goals
There has never yet been a 0-0 and you’ll be damn lucky, watching this type of contest, if there’s no red card, a fan punching the referee or a player attacking an opposition number sufficiently wantonly to earn a 5 year band from European football.
All of which is readily discoverable if you look back at the knuckle-duster bust-ups in which the two clubs have indulged since Bayern first tipped Vicente del Bosque, Gunter Netzer and Paul Breitner out of the European Cup semi final (Ps Amancio was red carded) back in 1976.
A Long Bern-ing Rivalry
It was the club’s first meeting and since then Bayern have noticeably had the upper hand.
They’ve won 11 of the twenty matches, they’ve eliminated Los Blancos five out of the six times they’ve met at this semi final stage – the last time via penalties, back in 2012 with the contest tied at 3-3.
This is a roller coaster for which you’ll need a seat-belt.
Then there’s the two managers – each a debutant in this fixture, but neither man in any way inexperienced in terms of their rivals tonight.
Though Pep Guardiola has never coached a team against Real Madrid apart from his native FC Barcelona his record at the Bernabéu makes remarkable reading – 5 wins and 2 draws. No defeats.
In fact the last time Madrid lost at home in the Champions League it was to Guardiola’s Barcelona back in April 2011 – a week after winning the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona at the Mestalla. Spooky?
As for the longer-in-the-tooth Carlo Ancelotti he’s never lost to Bayern – four wins and two draws while he was coach of AC Milan.
So, what gives tonight?
Well, while Pep Guardiola has been making ‘this tie comes at the wrong time for us when we’ve lost a bit of cutting edge’ noises and generally playing possum the fact appears to be that he thinks his team is more athletic and can ‘hassle’ Madrid into mistakes.
To Xab’ And To Hold
Having taken a little longer than expected to fully recover from the groin surgery he underwent last summer because of a subsequent metatarsal injury, Xabi Alonso’s return to Ancelotti’s team has been fundamental.
It has given balance and order to midfield, it has protected the back four and it has allowed the Italian to deploy a 4-3-3 formation – which has been an enormous success.
Lately, however, it has felt as though the 32 year old packing in 36 games since late October has been a demanding schedule.
His reading of the game is as good as ever, his use of the ball exemplary but there’s been the feeling that he’s positioning himself a few metres deeper than usual as if to anticipate that opponents may try to produce driving runs away from him and he’s compensating just by remaining a little deep.
From Guardiola’s training session on Monday (remember Guardiola played that very position throughout his career) there could be heard the shouts to his players: “Don’t leave Alonso or Ronaldo alone for a minute – get on them all the time”
Pep-er Casillas Early On
The Catalan was also insistent that his players, particularly Kroos, Martinez, Ribery, Müller and Robben, break the normal team orders (which are to favour passing to a better-placed team mate over shooting) and strike at goal early and regularly.
It isn’t a great deductive leap that he is questioning whether Iker Casillas, who has only been playing the Cup competitions and not the League campaign, might be a little rusty if he’s repeatedly asked to save testing shots swerving at him from distance?
While Madrid have won the last four home matches against Bayern they’ve only historically been able to eliminate their bête noir IF they don’t concede at home.
Other than that their record in Germany is, literally, appalling and they’ve lost four of the five semi finals of this competition they’ve competed against the Bavarians.
For the home side everything hinges not only on whether Ronaldo and Bale start, the former nearly recovered from hamstring problems the latter suffering badly from flu this week, but on whether they can perform at peak.
With them Madrid have tremendous speed on the counter, the power of two quite different free kick takers, danger from long range shots, real aerial threat and the importance of a tremendous partnership which is developing between the two players.
Two years ago Madrid showed, albeit in an aggregate defeat, that they are capable of playing at a tempo which the Germans rarely face and which, until Pepe gave away a needless penalty, looked like sending them through to the final.
Tonight the keys for Ancelotti’s side are: can he give the BBC (Bale, Benzema Cristiano) license to be creative; can his team keep a clean sheet and can they produce that roaring tempo which, every so often, makes the Bernabéu a daunting place for any opponent?
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