Europe’s two most fancied sides meet in the Bernabeu on Wednesday, as Bayern Munich travel to Spain to face Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals.
A tie that promises to be a pulsating clash sees Bayern boss Pep Guardiola return to Spain for the first time as an opposing manager to take on a star-studded Real team that includes the competition’s top scorer in Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema form one of the world’s most potent strike forces, but go head-to-head with a Bayern side containing the midfield might of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Squawka take a look at three key battles that could decide the clash.
Cristiano Ronaldo v Philipp Lahm
Guardiola’s penchant for playing Lahm as a deep-lying playmaker means that Ronaldo is unlikely to know exactly who it is he will be facing on Wednesday.
Guardiola could deploy Lahm in midfield and play Rafinha at right-back or Lahm could revert to his natural position in order to deal with the threat of Ronaldo.
With Ronaldo in the run of European form that he is in at the moment, he won’t be unduly worried about which of the Bayern pair he is facing. Of more concern will be the Portugeuse forward’s fitness. Ronaldo returned to training on Friday, but faces a race against time to be fit for the clash with Bayern.
Should he fail to make the game, then his absence will be keenly felt in the Real ranks. Ronaldo is the competition’s top scorer this season with 14 goals and is in line to break numerous European goalscoring records.
One more goal would see him edge in front of Lionel Messi in terms of goals scored in a single Champions League season, while a goal against Bayern would be the ninth consecutive Champions League game in which he has scored.
The star name in a sea of big players in this tie, Ronaldo has also created 18 chances over the competition so far. This is the second-highest mark at Real Madrid behind Karim Benzema, and he has created 2.28 chances per 90 minutes.
He has also averaged 1.78 goals per 90 minutes played in the competition from an average of around seven shots per 90 minutes.
Bayern captain Lahm has also had an impressive season, but is sure to have his hands full if he is chosen to mark Ronaldo. The German has made 14 clearances and 13 interceptions in Europe this season and has been successful in 60 percent of his attempted tackles.
However, while solid defensively, it is going forward where he really excels. His action-areas map from the Arsenal clash shows his desire to get forward from right-back, although this may need to be curbed in light of Ronaldo’s threat.
Lahm will have to contend with a left-winger that is both extremely direct and occupies narrow positions (shown on the action-areas map below) and the extent to which he—or Rafinha—are able to deal with Ronaldo and provide width going forward themselves is one of the tie’s key clashes.
Arjen Robben v Fabio Coentrao
Like Ronaldo, Real Madrid left-back Marcelo also returned to training this week.
However, given his status in the side relative to Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti may be less inclined to rush the Brazilian back from the hamstring injury that has kept him out in recent weeks—particularly with the nature of his injury being tested to the limit against the explosive pace of Arjen Robben.
This means that Fabio Coentrao is likely to be the man tasked with dealing with Robben. Coentrao will know exactly what to expect from the Dutchman, who will run at him before cutting in on his left foot.
Despite his one-dimensional play, Robben can also prove nigh impossible to stop when he is on song.
Robben has completed 28 Champions League take-ons this season, including five in his last game against Manchester United. While Robben has won 54 percent of his attempts to get past his marker, Coentrao has been successful with just half of his Champions League tackles.
Domestically, this drops even further to 45 percent and the Portuguese defender will have to be on top form if he is to stop Robben.
Should Marcelo be fit enough to return for Real, then things aren’t any better. Marcelo has won fewer tackles, headed duels and made fewer clearances per 90 minutes than Coentrao in what is definitely one of Real’s weakest areas.
Gareth Bale v David Alaba
Two of Europe’s top young talents feature in our final key battle, with Gareth Bale up against David Alaba.
Bale’s solo goal in the Copa Del Ray Final saw him step up in Ronaldo’s absence and step out of the Portuguese’s shadow. With doubts over Ronaldo's status, he could be required to do so again on Wednesday.
The Welshman has netted five Champions League goals and provided three assists this season, in addition to his 14 La Liga goals and 12 domestic assists.
Alaba has proven more solid than his Real Madrid left-back counterparts this season and won 58 percent of his tackles. He has also proven to be solid going forward, scoring two goals and providing one assist, meaning he is sure to provide Bale with a stern test.
All graphics and statistics courtesy of Squawka.