After Atletico and Chelsea turned in fairly turgid performances across the city, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich look primed to breathe a little life back into the Champions League by serving up an epic battle at the Bernabeu this evening. With doubts about their two outstanding talents however, the Spanish aristocrats may have it all on to take any significant advantage from the home leg.
Battling against Pep Guardiola’s European Champions is a difficult task at the best of times, but with doubts remaining over the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Gareth Bale apparently flattened by a flu bug, Los Blancos will hardly be overconfident of victory. Whilst it’s possible that either or both may play, there will be lingering doubts about the wisdom of throwing potentially half-fit players into such a big game.
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti will need also to have a care to the club’s faltering La Liga campaign, where Atletico may have taken a commanding points lead with games running out. He cannot however, go ‘all in’ to use the modern parlance on this game and risk losing his star players for a longer term. It may be that the experienced Italian merely decides to utilise the Argentine Angel di Maria instead. The wide man has turned in some excellent displays of late, and with Benzema available, Madrid will still carry plenty of firepower.
For Bayern, with the Bundesliga sewn up some time ago, there has been an inevitable temptation to ease up, with results such as the 0-3 home reverse to Dortmund cropping up. Now with only the German Cup, and a Champions League defence to secure, Guardiola will want his squad to be on message for the game.
Over the two legs, it’s difficult to oppose the Bavarian team. If the fixtures were reversed, with Madrid facing the second leg at home, with a fully fit squad, there would always be a chance of turning round a two, or perhaps even three, goal deficit in a pulsating evening at the Bernabeu. The format of having the home leg first however, does probably offer an advantage to Bayern.
Predicting these sorts of games is always a perilous process but, unless here’s a Lazarus-like return to full fitness from Ronaldo and/or Bale, it’s difficult to see the Spanish team securing a healthy enough lead to take to the Allianz for the return. In the absence of both, or either, of the duo Madrid will need someone to step up to the plate. It may be Benzema or di Maria. Perhaps Modric from midfield could be the man. If no-one does however, even securing a draw at home could prove difficult for Ancelotti’s team.
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