When Real Madrid were drawn against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final on 10 April, there was a strange sense of disappointment. A disappointment that this clash of two of Europe's greatest sides would not be saved for a fitting finale in Lisbon on 24 May.
Instead, we have been treated to a compelling double-header that remains finely poised following Madrid's narrow 1-0 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu last week. If Madrid are to achieve that holy grail of a tenth European Cup—la decima—they must complete the most daunting of challenges: holding a rampant Bayern side at the Allianz Arena.
We have all the details you need to make sure you don't miss a moment of the action, as well as the main talking points ahead of the clash.
Date: Tuesday, April 29
Time: 7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV1 (UK), Fox Sports 1 (US)
Can Bayern Contain the Real Madrid Counter-Attack?
There's little dispute that Bayern will control possession at the Allianz Arena. Pep Guardiola's side dominated proceedings at the Bernabeu with 72 percent of possession, as well as 17 shots in comparison to Madrid's nine, as per BBC Sport.
But statistics only tell half the story.
Despite an excellent display from Iker Casillas in goal, Bayern struggled to break down Madrid and convert their dominance into goals. At the Allianz, Munich will have little option but to attack—they must score, and that in itself brings danger.
Real Madrid are Europe's greatest proponents of counter-attacking football. With an attack including Angel di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, it's not hard to see why. Madrid can eviscerate their opponents within moments. One only has to watch Gareth Bale's lung-bursting rampage through the Barcelona defence in the Copa del Rey final to understand the dangers Madrid bring.
The Times' Oliver Kay reported Pep Guardiola's comments following the first leg on Twitter:
Guardiola calls Real Madrid "the best team in the world on the counter-attack. They're footballers, but they're also athletes."— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) April 23, 2014
Guardiola's challenge will be to dominate possession, while retaining sufficient cover to absorb the inevitable Madrid counter-attacks. Key to that challenge will be Bastian Schweinsteiger, who must walk a delicate tightrope between attack and defence, ensuring that Bayern are not overrun by Bale and Ronaldo.
Neuer vs. Ronaldo: Can the World's Best Goalkeeper Deny the World's Best Player?
If Madrid score, they will most likely claim a spot in the final. That's why Manuel Neuer is so integral to Bayern's hopes.
The Germany No. 1 will be called into action, and how he responds will be a key factor as to whether Bayern go through. Ronaldo was once again in scintillating form at the weekend with two long-range goals in a 4-0 win over Osasuna, as reported by The Guardian.
The Gelsenkirchen shot-stopper missed a mid-week DFB Cup semi-final win over Kaiserlautern with a calf injury, but Bundesliga.com reports that Neuer expects to be available for the return leg.
Can Real Madrid Overcome Bayern to Claim La Decima?
Who will progress to the Champions League final?
So unfavourable is Real Madrid's record against Bayern in the Champions League that they have been nicknamed "la bestia negra" (the black beast). Of 15 clashes to date, Bayern have prevailed in eight, Madrid in six, with one draw. Not a terrible record some might say, but few clubs in Europe have a positive record against Madrid.
La decima has become something of an obsession in the Spanish capital: That all too elusive 10th title in a competition Madrid have come to think of as their own.
But if there is one European side with as strong an affinity with the grand old trophy, it is Bayern. Three consecutive titles in the mid-'70s under the leadership of Franz Beckenbauer attest to that. Victory this year would make the Bavarian giants the first side to win consecutive Champions League titles.
Not only do these two European heavyweights have the expectation of the current generation on their shoulders; they also carry the tremendous burden of history. It will be the side that best deals with the expectation in the fierce cauldron of the Allianz Arena that will rightfully go on to Lisbon; most probably to become champions of Europe.