Since they drubbed Arsenal in the Round of 16, Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich have reached new levels of eye-catching form that matches up against the best of Europe’s super clubs. Along with a handful of convincing wins in the last couple of months (most notably the 4-1, 8-0, and 6-0 drummings of Dortmund, Hamburg, and Koln and an impressive 3-0 DFB Pokal win against a tricky Schalke squad), the ruthless Bavarians are coming into peak form at the right time, something that we haven’t seen in previous seasons under his predecessor Pep Guardiola. However, going into a stretch of games that consists of fierce Bundesliga rivals Dortmund (DFB Pokal), Bayer Leverkusen, and a Mainz squad with nothing to lose, along with their CL tie with Real Madrid crunched in between, Bayern must be on their A-game if they want to get by such a crucial stretch of games that will define their season. Succeed, and they will contest for a possible treble. However, as witnessed against Dortmund, Bayern have all the qualities to beat Real Madrid and qualify for the semifinals of the CL.
Carlo Ancelotti has finally found the perfect balance in his lineup selections, and with his style of ruthlessly efficient possession/build up play, composed/structured defense, and pressing off the ball emulating a certain fan favourite Jupp Heynckes who lead a legendary 2012/13 Bayern squad to the treble, Bayern seem to be in very good hands at the moment.
Predicted Starting XI’s
Carlo could either go with a 4-2-3-1 with Thiago or Muller at the 10. If he goes with Thiago he’d cause the most havoc for Madrid’s deep-lying midfielders and defenders with his pinpoint passes, and his ability to control the game effortlessly at whim. With Muller just behind Lewandowski however, their devastating build up play with one another could cause major trouble for Madrid’s backline, not to mention Muller will almost certainly drift forward to play on the shoulder of the two CBs, hoping to latch onto anything coming his way in his typical Raumdeuter (space finder) fashion, and even drift a bit outside in the hope of holding up the ball long enough for support to arrive in order to create chances. Robben, and Ribery will look to test the willpower of their opposing fullbacks in 1vs1 situations, in which I believe Bayern could highly profit off of especially in Robben’s case, where he will be going against Marcelo, who can be a liability at the back at crucial moments of a game. Alaba will most certainly be bombing up and down the left flank, offering support for Ribery and overloading Carvajal’s duties on the right hand side, which could prove to be detrimental to Real Madrid. Vidal will be key if Bayern wish to dominate the midfield as he’ll most likely be tasked to break up Madrid’s build up play in midfield between their two Galacticos in Kroos and Modric, a daunting task, but with Vidal’s level of quality and interpretation of the game expect him to hold his own. The backline will most likely be instructed to keep a wary eye of Real Madrid’s ever-going threat on the counter, crosses and during dead ball situations. Carlo’s Bayern will probably see most of the ball as Real Madrid will most likely drop back and hope for a lap of concentration to strike back at them, so it’ll be key for the back four to keep a structured backline, be wary of complacency, and to shut down Real Madrid’s devastating trio in BBC. However, if Bayern don’t manage to nullify the dominant midfield duo of Kroos and Modric, Vidal will essentially be chasing shadows for 180 minutes and be left for dead. With that in mind, in the defensive end, midfield anchorman Casemiro has the ability to nullify even the most tricky and stubborn attackers/creative midfielders. If Thiago doesn’t happen to get the best in this duel, it could spell a lot of trouble for the Bavarians, as they heavily rely on Thiago’s passing and link up play between the lines of midfield and defense to exploit their opponents. Putting that all that aside, if the 4-time Player of the Year, matchwinner, and marksman Cristiano Ronaldo happens to be on form for both legs, Real Madrid could easily dispatch of Bayern as they did in their last knockout stage encounter 3 seasons ago.
As stated in my last CL preview Thiago has been nothing short but brilliant this term. As evident in Bayern’s loss against Hoffenheim midweek, a Bayern squad without him lack the creativity, and fast, cutting-edge passes that split even the most stubborn and compact defenses. The overall tie will come down to if Real Madrid’s formidable midfield duo of Kroos and Modric can get the best of Thiago and nullify his impact through both legs. If not, Thiago should be able to break through a relatively inconsistent Real Madrid backline with relative ease. It will be a very intriguing midfield battle to say the least.
Robert Lewandowski & Arturo Vidal
Lewandowski will prove key to the outcome of this tie. Bayern will look heavily upon Lewandowski to produce the goals they’ll need if they wish to solidify their place in the semifinals of this years competition. If Real Madrid manage to silent the Pole throughout both legs, Bayern’s chances of qualifying for the next round will drop drastically. The underappreciated hero of Bayern’s midfield, Arturo Vidal will also prove key to the outcome of both legs, as he’ll be tasked in closing down and nullifying Real Madrid’s galactico midfield duo of Kroos and Modric. If he does his job correctly to great effect expect to see Bayern in a great position to dominate the midfield through both legs. However, nullifying the likes of Kroos and Modric is easier said than done so he’ll have his work cut out for him throughout both legs.
If Bayern play to the fullest of their capabilities, along with the 12th man behind them in the first leg to push them on in the thicke of things, and not to mention their outstanding home record in the competition (16 straight wins at the Allianz) I can see them edging out a win in the first leg of this tie. The 2nd leg however could very well be a tossup. I expect good performances from Thiago, and Vidal, and for Lewandowski to find his name on the scoresheet during this tie. Complacency at the back, and a possible set piece masterclass from Real Madrid (which they’ve been known for doing these past couple of seasons) could possibly be Bayern’s outdoing in both legs. However as things stand and going of recent form the Bavarian machine may be just a little too much for Real Madrid this time around.
Final Score Prediction
Bayern 2-1 Real Madrid (First Leg – Allianz Arena)
Real Madrid 2-2 Bayern (Second Leg – Santiago Bernabéu)
Photo Credit: Oliver Hardt/Bongarts
By: Orges Saliu