Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
April 23, 2014; 19:45 BST
Real Madrid host reigning European champions Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie at Santiago Bernabeu tonight. The German club have a wonderful record against the Spanish giants in this competition and they have beaten Real Madrid in four of the five European Cup semi-finals that these two teams have contested. In fact Real Madrid’s last win over Bayern Munich in this competition came in 2007 when they defeated the away side 3-2 with Raul scoring a memorable brace.
Bayern Munich have already wrapped up the Bundesliga and are now firm favourites to become the first team to defend their European crown since AC Milan. But Pep Guardiola’s men have faced some indifferent form off late and have won just three of their last seven matches in all competitions. Having struggled to score past Manchester United in the first leg of their tie in the last round, they will have to show more purpose against Real Madrid, who will perhaps be the toughest opposition they have faced this season.
Real Madrid on the other hand are coming into this tie on the back of a memorable Copa del Rey win over Barcelona in the final. Having lifted the trophy, the Spanish side will be full of confidence ahead of this game. With Atletico Madrid seemingly running away with the La Liga, Champions League perhaps represents a more achievable goal this season.
Team news and tactics
Carlo Ancelotti’s main concern ahead of this match is the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese international hasn’t played for Real Madrid since picking up an injury in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash against Borussia Dortmund. Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Ronaldo will undergo a late fitness test ahead of this game to confirm this ability and that the former Manchester United winger won’t be risked if there are any chances of relapse.
The Spanish giants are also without Alvaro Arbeloa and Jese duo to injuries, while left back Marcelo, who has missed first team action since the 2-1 loss against Sevilla back in March due to a hamstring problem, is yet to fully recover and is unlikely to start in this game. Gareth Bale has recovered from his flu and will feature in the starting line-up.
Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to make any changes to the starting eleven he used against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Which means Fabio Coentrao will start as the left back, while Angel Di Maria will partner Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso at the center of the part. Isco and Gareth Bale will partner Karim Benzema in attack. If Ronaldo passes the late fitness test however, Isco is likely to drop back to the bench.
Real Madrid’s first target in this game will be to not concede an away goal to Bayern Munich. The German side will dominate possession as expected, and this will suit the Spanish side as well, who are strong on counter-attacks. Coentrao and Carvajal will have to disciplined while trying to contain the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery on the wings, and this means the wide attackers of Real Madrid will also have to drop back and help them out defensively.
Carlo Ancelotti might also prefer to start with Asier Illarramendi in the midfield in order to provide extra defensive cover to the defence and play Di Maria on the wings in place of Isco.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Casillas (GK); Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Maria, Alonso, Modric; Bale, Benzema, Isco
Pep Guardiola will have to contain with a lot of injury concerns ahead of this game. Thiago Alcantara, Diego Contento and Xherdan Shaqiri are all out with injuries, Tom Starke has picked up an elbow injury as well. Holger Badstuber is still recovering to gain full fitness and remains out of contention for this game as well.
Manuel Neuer missed Bayern Munich’s last game against Braunschweig with a knee injury, but is expected to recover in time for this game. There are also concerns about the fitness of David Alaba, Daniel van Buyten, Thomas Muller and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg. Alaba missed the weekend’s game due to illness and Guardiola is sweating on his fitness to get him back on time for this game. Thomas Muller did come on as a substitute in the second half of the game, but there are still doubts about his match fitness.
Bayern Munich will welcome back Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez for this tie after the duo missed out the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash against Manchester United duo to suspension. But the Spaniard is doubtful for this game due to a concussion he suffered during Bayern’s clash against Braunschweig, after he started the match as a center back.
With domestic league already won, Guardiola has the luxury of resting a lot of key players. He is expected to make five changes to the side he fielded against Braunschweig. Mario Mandzukic will lead the line as Claudio Pizarro, who scored the opening goal at the weekend, drops back to the bench. Toni Kroos will replace Mario Gotze in the midfield, while Schweinsteiger, who was asked to play a more defensive role in the last game, will partner Kroos behind Mandzukic.
Philip Lahm, who started as a left back in the last game in place of Alaba, is expected to move back to his role of the holding midfielder in front of the defence – although Guardiola might also use him as a left back in order to handle Gareth Bale if Alaba fails to recover in time. Jerome Boateng and Dante will resume their partnership at the center of the defence, while Rafinha returns to the side as well. Manuel Neuer is also expected to recover in time and replace Lukas Raeder in goal.
Expected starting line-up (4-1-4-1): Neuer (GK); Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Lahm; Robben, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Ribery; Mandzukic
Players to watch-out for: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid); Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
Prediction: Real Madrid 1-1 Bayern Munich