It’s hard to tell whether or not Real Madrid are doing some clever misdirection with all this talk about Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale being injured. For Bayern Munich it’s less about the names on the pitch, but their ability to bring back the momentum they seemed to have lost going into the first leg of the Champions League semifinal.
There’s this assumption that Real Madrid are in good form but that would be wrong. Yes, they’re coming off wins over Barcelona and Almeria, but they have losses to Dortmund and Sevilla over the last 28 days. Cristiano Ronaldo playing will be a big boost to a team that clearly isn’t the same without him, especially when playing against a formidable opponent like Bayern Munich, he isn’t a guarantee for a good performance from the team.
It’s been a while since Real Madrid and the players faced the Guardiola style. Barcelona of the last two years and especially this season under Martino are a different, subdued version of the possession based football with an attacking edge that swept Europe from 2008 to 2011. Most of Real’s players were involved in the frustrating chase after the ball in those matches, sometimes without being able to make a single imprint on these matches.
Speed wins football matches these days, and Real Madrid have the ability to play fast football. That means stopping and interrupting Bayern Munich as much as possible, and taking advantage of the space behind a defensive line that hasn’t been at its best since securing the Bundesliga title. But Bayern Munich have their own weapons going into the match, and it’ll be very interesting to see how he approaches this match.
Because we’ve seen Bayern coming to kill matches off with possession without daring too much to try and break the ‘bus parking’ mold the team’s present them, but sometimes it has to do with the quality of defense they face. And while Real Madrid have some big names defending for them, collectively there is more than just one hole to exploit in their wall. Playing with a striker or not, possibly saving Mandzukic for later in the match is another choice he’ll have to make.
Unlike the first semifinal between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, there will be a lot less cynism in this one. Bayern might kill off matches sometimes with possession, but they’re still looking to score goals. They’re just not urgent about it. Real Madrid are in the same mindset, although they won’t be attacking with the same confidence and dominance we saw from them against Dortmund in the quarterfinals, fearing what Bayern can do a little bit more.