Bayern Munich visit Real Madrid on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League semifinals tie. The Bavarians downed Manchester United in the quarterfinals, winning the tie by an aggregate 4-2 margin, and now have their sights on winning Europe's most coveted trophy for a second consecutive season.
Should they do so, Bayern will be the first team in the modern era to successfully defend their European title. But before that can be discussed, they will have to negotiate a tough tie with Real. History is on the Bavarians' side, though: They advanced past Los Blancos to the final two seasons ago and have won 11 of 19 knockout-round ties against the Madrid giants in European competition overall.
Here's the most likely XI Bayern coach Pep Guardiola will use in Madrid:
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Manuel Neuer has missed Bayern's last two games with a muscular injury but was back in training ahead of Wednesday's match and has made the trip to Madrid. He should be pronounced fit to start, which is very important for a Bayern side that will surely prefer his experience and class ahead of youngster Lukas Raeder, who is untested at such a high level as the Champions League semifinals.
Right-Back: Philipp Lahm
Philipp Lahm has more often than not played in midfield this season, but as Bayern face off against Cristiano Ronaldo and Real, he undoubtedly will play on the right of defense. The Germany and Bayern captain has defended against Ronaldo many times for club and country, and he has largely been able to keep his opposite in check.
Center-Back: Jerome Boateng
Javi Martinez returns from suspension on Wednesday, but Jerome Boateng and Dante are most likely to be Bayern's starting pair in the center of defense. Real are known for their pace on the counterattack and after seeing Martinez struggle against United, Guardiola would be unwise to risk using the natural holding midfielder at the back against a Real attack that is much stronger than that of United.
Bayern's defense has been much, much stronger since the arrival of Dante in the summer of 2012. It was only after his signing that the Bavarians won the treble and that is no coincidence. The Brazilian center-back is hugely experienced and just the kind of player Bayern will need at the back in a game like Wednesday's.
Left-Back: David Alaba
David Alaba will be tasked with the burden of marking Gareth Bale on Wednesday. The Austria international will have a real challenge as he goes head-to-head with the in-form and mercurial Welshman. Alaba first emerged as a top left-back when playing against Real two seasons ago, though, and should be up for the task. Alaba has uncommonly cool nerves for a 21-year-old and for good reason: He is perhaps the best left-back in world football.
Defensive Midfielder: Toni Kroos
The defensive midfield position alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger is a bit of a toss-up between Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez, but under Guardiola, expect the former to start. The trainer prefers possession and control ahead of containment and at this point there is no better player in such a role than Kroos. The 24-year-old has delivered some brilliant Champions League performances this season and can take a huge step in his career on Wednesday.
Defensive Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Bastian Schweinsteiger was suspended for the second leg of the United tie, but he will be back in the lineup to face Real. The vice-captain was key to the Bavarians' progress against the Madrid giants two seasons ago and his form in the upcoming tie will certainly be important. Madrid is a hostile environment and how the leader Schweinsteiger reacts may decide just how comfortable Bayern are on the day.
Right-Winger: Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben is having one of the best seasons of his career, but the one thing he's missing is a match-winning performance in a high-stakes Champions League test. The stage is now set for the 30-year-old, who scored the winner in last year's final. He has the form and class to tear Real apart; time will tell whether the Dutchman can make good on his opportunity.
Center Attacking Midfielder: Thomas Muller
Only Mario Mandzukic, with 27 goals, exceeds Thomas Muller's tally of 24 or Bayern this season. And the Germany international has directly contributed to more goals (37) than any of his teammates. In such a star-studded team as Bayern, that says everything about the 24-year-old's quality. Muller is a proven winner, a tenacious runner and can provide both in attack and defense. He should get the nod if Bayern are to press Xabi Alonso and aggressively pursue an away goal.
Left-Winger: Franck Ribery
Franck Ribery is just behind Muller in terms of goals contributed to this season, with 36. Despite his advancing age, the Frenchman remains a key player in the Bayern attack. He'll square off with Dani Carvajal, who may be a weak link for Real on the wing. Ribery scored against Real in Munich two seasons ago and will be eager for a repeat in Madrid.
Striker: Mario Mandzukic
Like Muller, if Mario Mandzukic hasn't yet proven himself to Guardiola, the coach will never be satisfied. Mandzukic was heroic against Manchester United in the quarterfinals. And he'll favor his odds against Pepe and Sergio Ramos, who are easily agitated and could become frustrated when facing a striker of such sheer physicality.
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