Zee Media Bureau/Jayanta Oinam
Madrid: Unlike yesterday night`s squalid Champions League offering, the clash between two favourites in the second semi-final first-leg tie is set to light-up the footballing world. The historic Santiago Bernabeu host reigning European champions, Bayern Munich as Real Madrid chase their La Decima.
The focus, once again, will be on Madrid for the second successive night. Two teams from the Spanish capital are in contention to win the continental title, with Atletico Madrid settling for a goalless draw with Chelsea at Vicente Calderon yesterday night. The face-off between two of the most talked-about managers in Diego Simeone and Jose Mourinho failed to produced any spark.
However, the moment Pep Guardiola enters Bernabeu, it will automatically renew the Catalan`s rivalry with Madrid. Until some seasons ago, the 43-year-old former Spain midfielder was in charge of Barcelona – an embodiment of Catalan resistance, against Madrid. His contribution to the rise of Barca as one half of the Spanish duopoly is as important as that of ever-relevant El Clasico, one of biggest rivalries in sports.
Now, leading a new set of players – who are already crowned the continental champions, Guardiola will try everything to beat the hosts. A win in Madrid is always a personal victory for the former Barcelona boss. To meet this end, the Bavarians will play the type of match which has troubled Real Madrid in past – that of Barca`s possession game, of course. Because, since the unveiling of Pep as their boss, the German champions have seemed to adopt the Barca style too.
No doubt, his tactics also suited the hugely talented players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, etc. With some gloss, they can vie to become the best club in the world. But this one match has the propensity of derailing the Bavarian surge. Despite capturing the Bundesliga title in record time, they have suffered inconsequential losses which well have a spiralling effect.
Add to that, last season, Bayern became the first German club to complete the domestic league, domestic cup and the European cup treble. Despite all the successes, the club made replaced Jupp Heynckes with Pep. Repeating such a success will be a job well done, but failing to do so will only draw flak for both the club and the manager.
For Real Madrid – under Carlo Ancelotti, the most successful club in the world has seemed to regain their lost touch, and are primed to fulfil their quest for that elusive 10th big trophy this season. After starting the season in an indifferent note, Los Blancos have found themselves fighting in two fronts – domestic and continental.
Having lifted the Copa del Rey trophy last Wednesday, defeating arch-rivals Barcelona in the final, they now look to complete their own continental treble, as the league fight is still wide open. In the continental front, winning the Champions League becomes even more important as it is their fourth successive semi-final appearance, having exited in the penultimate round in the previous three editions, all under Jose Mourinho`s reign.
This time, Real Madrid are determined like never before. With the arrival of Gareth Bale, they have found yet another match-winner besides Cristiano Ronaldo. Unlike the previous seasons, the Portuguese super-star has taken the European stage by storm this season, scoring a record equalling 14 goals. If the Bale-Ronaldo duo manages to dominate the flanks at Bernabeu with their sheer pace, then they can put an end to the German curse. And that`s where the match will be decided.
In their previous five continental meetings, Bayern have won four times including that nerve-wrecking penalty shoot-out semi-final in 2012.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Dani Carvajal; Angel di Maria, Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric; Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale
Bayern Munich (4-1-4-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm; Javi Martinez; Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Arjen Robben; Mario Mandzukic