Champions League Semifinals Fan Preview: Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s tough road to Kiev continues after drawing the Bavarians, Bayern Munich, for the semi-final of the Champions League. Real Madrid’s Champions League campaign this season has been stellar thus far, conquering Paris and Turin. However, upnext is Los Blancos’ biggest challenge of the season, facing Jupp Heynckes’ rejuvenated Bayern Munich team. The merengues have reached a stage that many experts, fans and pundits did not expect them to be at: the semi-final, two matches away from the final. After the loss against Tottenham Hotspurs in the group-stage, many predicted that Real Madrid would crash out of the Champions League early, especially after drawing Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16. Despite the low expectations, Real Madrid showed the footballing world why no one should kick them while they are down unless they know they won’t be getting back up again, Real Madrid defeated Paris Saint-Germain 5-2 on aggregate, and also, they defeated Juventus 4-3 on aggregate. The next task is in Germany, in the Champions League, Real Madrid’s most impressive performances came away from home in Paris, and in Turin, winning both of those respective matches 1-2, and 0-3. Real Madrid always show the correct attitude, work ethic and discipline when playing big matches away from home, and this is exactly what they will need against Bayern at the Allianz Arena, they cannot afford to approach the match the way they approached the return leg against Juventus, where we saw multiple mistakes, complacency and sloppiness from players like Marcelo, Casemiro, Keylor Navas, and Gareth Bale who really should have been nowhere near the starting eleven in that match. All three goals that were conceded against Juventus could have been easily avoided as they all came from individual mistakes, something Real Madrid has been suffering from a lot this season. At this stage of the season, the team knows that the season is on the line, the only title Real Madrid are able to win now is the Champions League and the players know they are three wins from achieving that, they know that there is no margin for error especially against Bayern Munich, who have players like Lewandowski, Ribery, Robben, James who thrive off of punishing the opposition for every mistake they commit.
Our Last Meeting:
The tie against Bayern Munich is very much even, there is no clear favorite in a tie between these two heavy-weights despite the fact that Real Madrid have managed to knock-out the German club in their last two meetings convincingly, most recently last season where Real Madrid won the tie 6-3 on aggregate. Real Madrid limited Bayern Munich to 5 shots on target over the two legs, without Varane and Pepe, the Bavarian club’s three goals came from a set-piece, a controversial penalty, and an offside goal that took the match into extra time giving Bayern a leg to stand on. Over the two legs, Real Madrid were very comfortable. They conceded very few clear-cut chances, cut open Bayern’s defence on multiple occasions with ease, in fact, Real Madrid would have won the first-leg in Germany by a big margin had it not been for the heroics of the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer who will not be available for both legs against Real Madrid this season.
How Will Real Madrid Approach This Tie?:
I believe that Zidane will approach the first leg the same way he approached the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, he knows that similar to PSG, Bayern Munich are going to attack from the first whistle to the last whistle, so he will want his players, to remain patient and cautious when they’re off the ball. Zidane will also look to shut-down the full-backs, just like he did vs PSG in the away leg where he got Dani Alves and Yuri Berchiche isolated in 2v1 situations (Asensio and Marcelo vs Dani Alves and Vazquez and Carvajal vs Yuri). Real Madrid won’t look to dominate possession, they’ll focus on winning the ball as high up the pitch possible in order to hit Bayern on the counter-attack. I predict that Zidane will play with a flat 4-4-2, with Isco on the left-side adding security, Modric on the other side, Kroos and Casemiro in the middle of the midfield, however on the ball the formation will quickly change into a 442 diamond, with Isco being given the role to roam around freely.
Keep An Eye Out For:
The players you need to keep an eye on will be Dani Carvajal and Toni Kroos, they will be crucial for victory. One will have the task of keeping Ribery quiet over 180 minutes (which Dani has done before twice), as well as being involved in the offensive play of the team in counter-attacks, build-ups etc. As for Toni, well there’s nothing else left to be said about him. He’s the anchor of this team, one of the few good performers versus Juventus in the return leg. Kroos brings balance into this Real Madrid side, he dictates the rhythm and tempo of play, he is able to pick out players in the tightest of players, Kroos is able to easily evade press by the opposition, a lot of Real Madrid’s play goes through him. As Carlo Ancelotti once described him in 2014, Toni Kroos is a professor.
Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo.
Photo: JAVIER SORIANO/GettyImages