Champions League semi finals can be tense, tight occasions but anyone who suffered yesterday’s tedium between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea yesterday should be able to enjoy a much more expansive occasion tonight when the two favourites for the title, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, clash.
A semi final as tightly matched as last night’s encounter, these two sides are as equally matched as Atletico and Chelsea - but with both their strengths coming in attack. Bayern have scored 81 goals in their Bundesliga title defence, 16 in their run to the DFB Pokal final, and 24 in their run to this stage of the Champions League.
Madrid have scored 10 more in their conquest for La Decima, their 12 year hunt for an elusive 10th Champions League title, and 94 goals with 4 games still left in their battle royale with neighbours Atletico and Barcelona for the title, while scoring 15 goals in their Copa Del Rey win.
It’s pretty clear that both these sides have fearsome forward lines, and with the likely narrative of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern dominating possession and Madrid, not unfazed by being given the ball but lethal on the counterattack, we “should” see a more flowing encounter from start to finish.
The two sides are exceptionally finely matched with Munich favourites to go through and favourites to become the first side to retain their title in the Champions League era, although they are in the rare position of second favourites tonight as they travel to Spain for the first leg with Real as short as 11/8 to take a first leg lead and the same price to reach Lisbon.
Munich’s dominance in Germany has made them look like worthy favourites to retain their title and there’s no doubting the individual class of their side, but there is just a slight feeling that despite Gareth Bale being benched thanks to illness and Cristiano Ronaldo coming straight in off a hamstring injury.
Munich’s two league defeats and a draw in their last four games are understandable after retaining the Bundesliga, but their performance against Manchester United when they laboured for a large majority of the tie cast doubt over their level of performance for the first time in Europe this season. They should find chances much easier to come by this time around against a side that will need no invitation to get forward but there were certain defensive issues exposed by United’s counterattacking style that Isco, Di Maria, Benzema and Ronald can all take advantage of. Jerome Boateng and Dante were sprung more than once on the high line at Old Trafford and could be vulnerable in the same way again, a comment that applies to Rafinia, playing at left back with Lahm in the midfield.
It is there that they should hope to win the possession battle but Modric and Xabi Alonso have been arguably Europe’s best creative midfielders this season and alongside Isco they have proven to be fine anchors for a side that looks immensely powerful under Carlo Ancelotti.
In Sergio Romeos and Pepe, Madrid have the same identical weaknesses but Ramos should prove a weapon in particular for dead ball situations going forward, an area with United exploited to take a lead going into the second leg in Germany.
With Madrid’s away woes still an underlying problem; A defeat against Sevilla may yet cost them the La Liga title and honestly speaking, Dortmund should have taken their quarter final to extra time at least, but at the Bernabeu they’re a force to be dealt with, boasting a record of 23 out of 25 home games won this season. Since the turn of the year that record is 12 out of 13 and they have scored at least three goals in each of their last nine games at the Bernabeu, while having won 15 of their last 17 home games in Europe.
The presence of Munich is a mighty test for any side but perhaps it is time for the favourites to meet their match and Ancelotti’s side have the pace and skill to take a lead back to Germany. One would also favour them to make the final instead of Muncih – although the 11/4 on them winning might be a better bet given they’ll be favourites should they reach Libson – but their away day blues are enough of a concern to steer one off course. 7/5 is a fair price about the home win but given Madrid’s own defensive issues the 7/2 about them winning without a clean sheet is just as attractive and a preferred option, with Hills offering 9/2 about Bayern leaving with a lead and no clean sheet, making for an attractive dutch.
2 pts Both teams to score and Real Madrid to win (7/2 Hills)
1 pt Both teams to score and Bayern Munich to win (9/2 Hills)