Less than a week ago Bayern Munich were still dreaming of completing the treble. Alas, that unprecedented feat has seemingly once again evaded the Bavarians, who came close in 2010, falling only at the last hurdle in the Champions League Final against Inter Milan. This year, following a woeful domestic week, it seems Bayern will not be collecting the 'Salad Bowl' (the name given to the Bundesliga shield due to its shape) and, with limited significance attached to winning the German Cup, the Champions League remains Bayern's only chance of salvaging a once promising season.
On Tuesday night Real Madrid will roll into Munich, venue for this year's final on May 19th. The duel is a clash of two veritable European giants, with thirteen combined European Cup / Champions League (CL) successes between them. Real, for their part, have nine of those but the search for the elusive décima is now in its tenth season since they beat German opposition Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 CL final in Glasgow. It's an obsession which drives the Spaniards but even this has been usurped by the need to topple Barcelona, the current Spanish, European and World champions. Perhaps the Spaniards will have one eye on Saturday's El Clásico, sandwiched inconveniently between the two legs of this tie. This could present Bayern's best opportunity.
The record German champions left Franck Ribéry, Philipp Lahm and Mario Gomez all on the bench for Saturday's dismal draw against Mainz. For 'die Roten', the objective is clear: all effort must go into reaching this year's CL final. Expect the three players above to be recalled at the expense of David Alaba, Rafinha and Ivica Olic respectively. While recalling these three players is essential for Bayern to stand any chance of making the final, coaxing the best out of Arjen Robben is potentially equally as important. The mercurial Dutchman's talent is unquestionable but it remains to be seen how affected his temperament is by both the missed penalty and the wasted last minute chance from three yards in last week's unofficial title decider in Dortmund. Robben is a former Real player and has won league titles in four nations. However, he is yet to grasp club football's biggest prize. He should come into this match with sufficient motivation and renewed vigour to cause his former club problems.
Indeed, if Real Madrid have a weakness, and one look at their points total in La Liga suggests otherwise, it is surely in the full-back area, directly opposite Bayern's strength on the wings. If the 'Robbery' duo is on form, Álvaro Arbeloa and Marcelo, Real's likely full-backs should be in for a busy evening in Munich. It is here that the tie will be decided: Real Madrid's attack is too powerful for a fragile Bayern defence to keep out and Bayern must rely on out-scoring the Spaniards to get through. This is no easy task, but in addition to the talents of Robben, Ribéry will be looking to add to his five assists in this year's CL, and Mario Gomez, to his eleven goals. Jérôme Boateng and Holger Badstuber are in for a torrid two games against Cristiano Ronaldo and company, especially in the second leg in Madrid.
Real's wily coach José Mourinho is no stranger to 'parking the bus'. Indeed the 'Special One' introduced the phrase into the English vernacular whilst in charge of Chelsea. Expect Real to look to keep it tight in Bavaria and pinch a vital away goal to take back to Madrid with the prospect of scoring three or four on Spanish soil. If Bayern do not get a positive result at home, they can virtually write off their dream of a European final in their own stadium. It all depends on the 'front four' getting enough goals to give Bayern a chance in Spain. If Jupp Heynckes is to repeat his CL winning success as coach of Real Madrid in 1998, he must outscore his former employers. Let's hope he goes on the offensive.