Real Madrid will take a slender advantage to Germany after defeating Bayern Munich, 1-0, in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final Wednesday evening at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Karim Benzema scored the only goal, finishing a fine Real Madrid counterattack in the 19th minute. Bayern Munich dominated possession, holding the ball 72 percent of the match, per WhoScored.com, but struggled to consistently create clear chances against Real's organised defence.
The second leg is scheduled for next Tuesday at Bayern's Allianz Arena, and though Real Madrid will start the match with a one-goal advantage, Carlo Ancelotti's side will have a difficult task in finishing off the German champions.
Bayern are the defending Champions League winners and wrapped up a second consecutive domestic title in record time this term. Pep Guardiola's side—which is still chasing a second straight treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup trophies—has lost only twice at home this season in all competitions, outscoring opponents 42-13 in 15 Bundesliga matches.
But as Wednesday's first leg showed, Guardiola's side will have to do more than possess the ball if they are to advance to a second straight Champions League final.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, remain alive in their own quest for a treble, having beaten Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final earlier this month. The Blancos are currently third in La Liga, six points behind leaders Atletico Madrid but with one match in hand.
Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Real Madrid's starting lineup for the first time since April 2 after suffering a knee injury while playing against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals. Gareth Bale started on the bench after a bout with the flu this week, per Jack De Menezes of The Independent.
Bayern settled quickly, dominating possession and pressuring Real Madrid heavily in the rare moments the hosts held the ball. The first chance came in the 14th minute after Arjen Robben's shot from the edge of the box was deflected out for a corner, which Bastian Schweinsteiger headed straight at Iker Casillas.
For all of Bayern's dominance, Real went ahead in the 19th minute with their first meaningful attack.
As Real countered quickly after Bayern's attack, Ronaldo played an incisive pass to Fabio Coentrao on the left. Nearing the byline, Coentrao crossed into the middle for Benzema, who swept in with his first touch to give Real a 1-0 lead.
It could have been 2-0 moments later after Angel Di Maria picked out Ronaldo with a curling cross, but Ronaldo directed his header straight at Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Ronaldo then missed another chance in the 26th minute, volleying over the bar from Benzema's cross.
Despite the setback, Bayern continued to dominate possession—though Real continued to defend well in a disciplined 4-4-2 formation. The visitors worked a good chance in the 39th minute as Franck Ribery set up Robben for a shot, but Robben's low effort was blocked.
At the other end, Real had another chance to double their lead in the 41st minute, when Isco's cross from the left fell to Di Maria at the back post. But with only Neuer to beat, Di Maria blasted his shot over the bar.
Trailing, 1-0, at half-time, Bayern struggled early in the second half to create clear chances. Toni Kroos shot too high in the 58th minute and Robben rolled a weak shot at Casillas four minutes later.
Real maintained a threat going forward as well, Ronaldo forcing Neuer to save in the 47th minute and again 21 minutes later.
Both teams made multiple substitutions as the match approached its final 15 minutes. Pepe departed in the 73rd minute, replaced in Real Madrid's defence by Raphael Varane. A minute later, Ronaldo made way for Bale. Bayern, meanwhile, introduced Mario Gotze for Ribery and Thomas Muller for Schweinsteiger.
Muller nearly made an immediate impact, curling a fierce shot wide in the 81st minute. Bale created a moment of danger as well, cutting to the byline on the left before attempting to cross for Benzema in the 83rd minute, but Dante intercepted and made a crucial clearance.
One minute later, Bayern had their best chance of the second half, as Muller crossed to Gotze from a deep position on the right. Gotze steadied himself with a touch before driving a hard shot on target, but Casillas saved to maintain Real's advantage.
In stoppage time, Bayern appealed for a penalty after Muller went to the ground in the box under pressure from Xabi Alonso. But referee Howard Webb waved play on despite Bayern's protests and Real Madrid held on for a valuable victory ahead of next week's trip to Bavaria.
|Real Madrid Player Ratings|
|Angel Di Maria||7||6|
|Raphael Varane (for Pepe, 73')||N/A||6|
|Gareth Bale (for Ronaldo, 74')||N/A||8|
|Asier Illarramendi (for Isco, 82')||N/A||6|
|Bayern Munich Player Ratings|
|Javi Martinez (for Rafinha, 66')||N/A||6|
|Mario Gotze (for Ribery, 72')||N/A||5|
|Thomas Muller (for Schweinsteiger, 74')||N/A||5|
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said he was "happy" with his team's performance, noting the improvement as the match progressed. "I'm happy with everything, because the match was difficult," Ancelotti said, per UEFA.com. "We played well, suffering sometimes and playing well in attack. Overall, I'm happy with my team.
In the beginning we were a little shy, losing possession at the start and dropping deep. In the second half, Bayern were less effective. The work we did was fundamental. (Fábio) Coentrão has had the help of Isco many times and (Ángel) Di María got help from (Dani) Carvajal. It's a group effort.
Without (Gareth) Bale and with Cristiano (Ronaldo) at 50 percent, it was not easy. The team worked well. Cristiano made an effort to play. The second leg is very difficult; we have a small advantage but we have to play with the same confidence and desire as we showed today. Nobody knows what can happen in Munich.
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola called Real Madrid the world's best counterattacking team but insisted his side played well in the first leg. Speaking to German television (as quoted by Football Espana), Guardiola said:
I’m more optimistic now than before playing this game. We did everything to win but you can always lose when you’re against great players like these.
We’ve lost in a respectable manner. (Real Madrid) are the best team in the world on the break. The match was how they wanted it. The ball was going faster, faster returns, more verticality, and in that, they are better.
Real Madrid host Osasuna on Saturday in La Liga. Bayern Munich host Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga the same day.
The second leg is scheduled for next Tuesday at Bayern's Allianz Arena.