Perennial European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been coupled together in the semifinals of the Champions League, in what should be a captivating and close tie.
The first leg will be played at the Allianz Arena on 17 April, with the deciding fixture in Spain a week later on 25 April.
With world-class players on both sides, here are six tactical situations that could well decide which team progresses to the final.
One of the areas that Bayern will look to get joy from, especially in the first leg at home, will be out wide. In former Santiago Bernabeu wideman Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes’ side have two of the most potent wingers in the game, who play a major part in orchestrating the Bavarian outfit’s attack.
With attacking-minded full-backs such as Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao in Los Blancos’ side, and Philipp Lahm looking to get forward for the German team, Bayern may well find joy down the flanks. Although Madrid will most likely play two holding central midfielders in front of their defence in the away leg, out wide the likes of Angel Di Maria will be reluctant to track back—Bayern can use this to their advantage.
In Mario Gomez, Bayern have one of Europe’s form strikers, whose predatory instinct, finishing and movement off the ball is pivotal for club and country. The Bundesliga’s current top scorer showed his calibre in front of goal in the last round, hitting the back of the net four times against a hapless Basel side in the quarterfinals.
Jose Mourinho’s team selection at centre half will be interesting given that Gomez will need to be paid close attention. With Sergio Ramos currently on the sidelines through injury, the Portuguese trainer will pray that the Spain international returns in time to go head-to-head with Bayern’s main forward. If not, the less-assured Raul Albiol, hotheaded Pepe and ageing Ricardo Carvalho may well have their hands full.
Real Madrid have recently looked to the Bundesliga for new signings, with Nuri Sahin, Mesut Ozil, Hamit Altintop and Sami Khedira all moving from Germany to the Spanish capital. Khedira may well have an important role to play in limiting the impact of Bayern playmaker, and international colleague, Thomas Muller.
At times petulant and inconsistent, Muller has the ability to be anonymous or a match-winner; at his best the attacking midfielder’s supply to hitman Gomez is a key feature of Die Roten’s play going forward. Muller will look to play in the hole between Madrid’s defence and midfield, and as such Khedira looks like the most likely option to shackle the talented playmaker.
Despite it being widely acknowledged that Lionel Messi is the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo has inspired Madrid to the top of La Liga and is having a record-breaking season. The Portugal international has matured from a tricky winger at Manchester United to a powerful and at times almost unplayable attacker in his time in Spain.
Ronaldo’s threat is two-fold. Given a free reign to wreak havoc by the Spanish giants, CR7’s mobility, constant movement and lethal eye for goal make him a devastating attacker, and a major goal threat.
To be shackled or even partially stopped, Bayern will have to instruct the likes of Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Luiz Gustavo to be very disciplined in their positioning, and combative in their tackling. However, over-exerting resources to stop the world’s second-best player may well leave room for the likes of Di Maria, Ozil and Kaka to dominate possession.
Bayern must try to have the lion’s share of the ball to stand a chance of resisting Madrid’s attacks.
An unsung hero in a star-studded Madrid attack, Mesut Ozil will be an all-too-familiar face for the German side. Where the likes of Ronaldo pose a direct threat through pace and power, Ozil’s main strength is passing and precision.
The playmaker is the fulcrum of Madrid’s possession play, and arguably has the most ability to supply the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, and create goalscoring opportunities.
With the Germany international’s guile, ability to slip a marker and superb eye for a pass, Bayern’s aforementioned defensive midfielders will need to get through a lot of work if the Allianz Arena outfit are to stand a chance.
Two of the most accomplished midfielders in the European game, the battle between Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be key in the outcome of the two-legged tie. Although not always in direct competition due to Alonso’s deep-lying position, the pair are the heartbeat of their respective midfields and teams.
Alonso has the passing ability and regimented positional sense to allow those more gifted teammates in attack to prosper, whilst Schweinsteiger’s energy and influence on Bayern’s other players makes him a vastly important man for the Germans. With the pair potentially locking heads for their countries at Euro 2012 in June, these influential midfielders will be key men in deciding this tie over 180 minutes.