Bernabeu Battle of the Giants

'It's not a terrible result. It's not as if we need a historic comeback with a massive win in the second leg, we need a normal result, 1-0 or 2-0, which we are capable of getting with our fans behind us,' said Jose Mourinho after last week's Champions League semi-final first leg at the Allianz Arena. With this statement coming from the self-appointed Special One, it's hard not to imagine a smug undertone to his words. 'A draw would have been a fairer result but this is football, whoever scores wins and the game ends when it ends,' he added, still failing to concede an occasion where a loss was deemed acceptable.

As highlighted in the Munich match preview, Mourinho was always likely to keep the first leg tight and look to blow Bayern out of the water in the second. So far so good for the Spaniards. Having conquered their arch-rivals Barcelona in their own backyard on Saturday, 'Los Merengues' will be confident of sealing a first Champions League final appearance since 2002 to go with their near-certain La Liga title. Jose Mourinho's team-talk is easy. With firepower in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Mesut Özil and Angel Di Maria, the Portuguese can simply say to his team: 'Go out and make sure we score that all-important first goal' (which would put Madrid ahead on the away goals rule). Then wait for Bayern to attack and pick them off at devastating pace on the counter-attack. The more time elapses, the more desperate Bayern will become and the more risks they will take pushing men forward. Then score enough goals to make the tie comfortable. Easy prey. Barcelona, amongst others this season, can testify how fast Madrid can turn a dangerous defensive situation into a deadly attack. For Mourinho and his team, actually notching the first goal is the only 'real' concern. Having broken the all-time record for most goals in a La Liga season, they might feel it is only a matter of time.

'Schweini' scratching his head at his lack of form. Photo courtesy FC Bayern Munich.Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes has a much less straightforward task ahead of him. There are effectively two polar opposite tactics he could employ. Should Bayern attack Madrid, in the cauldron that is the Santiago Bernabeu, and try to finish the tie off? Or should they sit back and defend the slender lead given to them by Mario Gomez's last-gasp miscue? Looking at how prolific the Real Madrid attack is, it would be almost futile trying to stop them scoring, which means only one thing: Bayern must score to get through. Madrid will score so Bayern will have to follow suit. Assuming that Heynckes doesn't want to have to change tactics mid-game, he must conjure up a plan that will allow Bayern to score and keep Madrid out. Expect Bayern to start as they did in Munich, with three central midfielders sharing the work-rate rather than one of the three playing further up the pitch in support of Gomez, as happened in the Allianz Arena after Thomas Müller replaced the out-of-sorts Bastian Schweinsteiger. As usual, much will depend on Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery to provide the ammunition for top scorer Gomez.

The record German champions have prevailed in three out of four European semi-finals against Real and only one of Bayern's last 30 games in the Champions League has ended in a draw (W20, L9). Seven players are one yellow card away from missing the final in Munich on May 19th. David Alaba, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Luiz Gustavo, Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng risk suffering the same fate as Franck Ribery two years ago if they pick up a caution tomorrow.

My fear is Heynckes will order his troops to play defensively and that this will backfire, giving Madrid possession and encouragement to find that solitary goal they need. It all depends how long Bayern can hold out for. Is it impossible to hold out for ninety munutes?


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