Bayern Munich and Real Madrid renew their Champions League rivalry on Tuesday at the Allianz Arena.
When Bayern Munich and Real Madrid kick off on Wednesday, April 25, it will be the 25th game between the sides, the most contested match ever in UEFA competition. After 24 games, each team has won 11 times. The parity between the two clubs has created arguably Europe’s biggest rivalry.
That the most recent installment of this rivalry resulted in nine goals over two legs only adds to the sense of anticipation. Real won the first leg in Munich 2-1, only for Bayern to force extra time in the second, before Marcelo, of all people, took over the game, driving his team forward with a remarkable attacking display from left-back.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored five goals, to take his tally against Bayern to nine (and an assist) in six games. As he did last season, Ronaldo has operated this year as a traditional number 9. The shift has allowed him to remain as dangerous as ever, even as he’s entering his mid-30s. The Portuguese has 15 goals in this season’s competition, seven more than anyone else.
Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels will be responsible for keeping Ronaldo in check. Hummels missed the first leg last season, while his replacement, Javi Martinez, was sent off for two yellow cards. With a more settled back line, and a more disciplined performance (Arturo Vidal was sent off in the second leg), Bayern will be confident.
They will, however, have to do it without Vidal, who will miss the rest of the season with injury. Vidal has been a regular starter under Jupp Heycnkes, who is likely choose either Thiago Alcantara or Corentin Tolisso to replace him. Thiago offers more an attacking threat, and is better in possession, but Tolisso will provide a better shield in front of the defense.
The third option is to shift Thomas Muller in from the wing to play alongside James Rodriguez, behind Robert Lewandowski, with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben out wide. Bayern have excelled recently using this formation, but may prefer to give Javi Martinez more support in holding midfield against a team as good as Madrid.
This really, is the most intriguing part of the tie. Bayern have cruised to another Bundesliga title, and in the Champions League knockout rounds so far have faced Besiktas and Sevilla, hardly European royalty. The best team they’ve played this season since Heynckes took over was PSG, but even that was essentially a dead rubber in the final game of the group stage.
Whoever starts, these teams will be very familiar with one another. Rodriguez, Robben and Heynckes have all been on both sides of the rivalry, while Real’s Toni Kroos will also face off against his old club. That’s not even to mention the 24 previous games between these clubs. If last year’s quarterfinal is any indication, however, familiarity should breed excitement.