The semifinals of the UEFA Champions League have been set. The first of the two matches will feature two of the most storied clubs in the world. Bayern Munich will take on Real Madrid, with a trip to the finals on the line.
The two clubs have been juggernauts in their respective countries for years, but they have also made their mark on the global stage. The two will clash first on April 18, at the Allianz Arena, and second on April 26, at the Bernabeu.
The match will feature three of the top four goals scorers in the Champions League. Mario Gomez of Bayern Munich has 12 goals in the Champions League. The third and fourth leading scorers are Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The duo has scored eight and seven goals, respectively.
With that, here are five bold predictions for the semifinals match between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
There is no doubt that Real Madrid has a lot of firepower. While Cristiano Ronaldo will command most of the attention, Karim Benzema has played phenomenally for Los Blancos and has been pivotal in Madrid's Champions League success. Madrid also has Gonzalo Higuain and Kaka off the bench, who are always threats to put the ball in the back of the net.
All of this is evident with Madrid scoring a whopping 13 goals in the first two rounds of the Knockout Stage. That's tied for most of the tournament with fellow Spanish juggernaut, Barcelona.
With all of that being said, my predictions is that Los Blancos will get blanked in the first leg of the semifinals in the Allianz Arena. This is more of a testament to Bayern Munich's smothering defense than anything. Bayern has yet to concede a goal in the Allianz Arena in the Knockout Round. The longtime Bayern back Philipp Lahm has been outstanding, and Manuel Neuer has been great in the net.
Note: This prediction only pertains to the first leg. I certainly don't see Real Madrid being held scoreless for both legs.
Karim Benzema has played in Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow ever since he arrived at Real Madrid. There is little doubt that Ronaldo is the bigger scoring threat, but I think it is going to be Benzema who will be the highest scorer for both teams.
Bayern Munich's hands-down best defender, Philipp Lahm, has gone back and forth with the left and right back position in his career for Bayern. Currently, Lahm is playing right back for the Bavarians. This means that Lahm and Ronaldo will be seeing a lot of each other. If you are Bayern Munich, that is the best possible scenario.
Real Madrid is going to have to generate pressure from another place, and that is where Benzema steps in. Benzema is a very gifted scorer and should be able to find the back of the net against Bayern.
Mario Gomez has the most Champions League goals of any player who will be on the field. But Real Madrid has done an excellent job at forcing opposing strikers to be facilitators.
You aren't going to find a much better back line than Sergio Ramos, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Marcelo. Madrid has only given up one goal to a striker in the entire Knockout Round, and that was on a penalty kick. While the group isn't going to be able to bully around Gomez as they have done to other strikers, they do an excellent job of forcing teams to use their secondary and tertiary scoring options.
Luckily for Munich, they have some very offensively-gifted midfielders in Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller.
Mesut Ozil has been one of the unsung heroes for Real Madrid this season. The German midfielder has 17 assists in 28 La Liga games and has three assists in eight Champions League Games.
Ozil has been a catalyst for the Madrid attack. When he is playing well, Madrid is incredibly difficult to stop. However, Munich is very good at subduing attacking midfielders. Part of that has to do with their midfielder heavy formation. And a lot of the players on Bayern's back line and defensive midfield have played with Ozil for the German national team.
While this isn't a huge advantage, they do have an idea of his tendencies. And sometimes that can make all of the difference. The combination of Bayern's ability to negate attacking midfielders and their familiarity with Ozil will prevent him from recording an assist or a goal.
I count this as a bold prediction simply because Bayern Munich is the underdog. While both teams have been dominant so far in the Champions League, Real Madrid looks to be the favorite to get to the finals.
However, Bayern has a very underrated offense, and they match up very well with Real Madrid. Their midfield play will ultimately determine whether they advance. If Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben are able finish their opportunities, and if defensive midfielders like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo Dias are able to make Ozil uncomfortable, then Bayern Munich can pull off the upset.