2014 Champions League Semifinals: Real Madrid Vs Bayern Munich, Match Preview

Denis Doyle

Two of Europe's biggest giants square off for the right to play in the Champions League final.

Well, this will be a tall task.

Bayern Munich, back-to-back Bundesliga winner and defending champions of Europe, roll into town in their Volkswagens to take on the high-flying attack of Real Madrid, led by recently returning Balon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. While many might be focused on each team's respective defenses, considered to be their weak points, we might actually be seeing some fireworks and scorched nets thanks to the offensive talent to be on display.

Between their domestic leagues and the Champions League, the two sides have scored a combined 234 goals, with both clubs sporting three players in double digit goals. For Bayern Munich, the obvious key man will be Croatian Mario Mandzukic. The towering striker averages over three aerial duels won per game, and even more scary is the fact that 10(!) of his goals this season have come via his noggin. As the first leg is being played in Madrid, it is imperative that the men in white keep Bayern to as close to a shutout as they can in order to prevent an away goal, and this will require Pepe and Sergio Ramos to be absolutely clinical in the air as Bayern will undoubtedly be crossing balls in to Mandzukic to test Iker Casillas.

As previously mentioned, Bayern can hit Madrid with an arsenal of attackers, from the front all the way to the back. A key player to watch out is the speedy David Alaba. Alaba tends to go forward in attack, similar to Marcelo and Dani Alves, and this can be a double-edged sword for the rest of his team. His runs forward, and sometimes to the center of the pitch, causes the CBs to have to slide to the outside to cover for him and if Madrid can win the ball back and transition quickly this could be a decisive area of strength for the Spanish club as Madrid's speed on the wings is nearly unrivaled.

While one can certainly learn from Bayern's domestic performances, I believe that looking at their Champions League results is more beneficial as the quality of opponents faced in the CL is much closer to RM than that of the Bundesliga. Statistically, the goals conceded by Bayern (eight in 10 matches), have come more on the left side and targeted to the lower left side of the goal. As Cristiano Ronaldo will be back and will have a physical advantage over either Rafinha or, the more likely to start at RB, captain Phillip Lahm, expect a heavy dose of feeding the ball to Cris to set up the final shot. The problem here is that Lahm is arguably Bayern's best player so it will most likely take an overload from Madrid to find success on that side.

Offensively, the vast majority of their goals in the Champions League have come in the box as only three were scored from distance. Bayern is averaging an astounding 20.2 shots per CL game (Madrid averaging 16.9), 69.3 percent possession and a pass success rate of 89.8 percent. Much of their attack develops on the right side with speed man (and one-footed wonder) Arjen Robben cutting inside to develop a shot where 63 percent of their shots come from. In a way, Bayern is a much better form of Barcelona, susceptible on the counter and slightly shaky in the back but more than willing to hold on to the ball for long stretches and most importantly creating an absurd amount of shots on goal with a variety of attackers.

Honestly, I think feel that Bayern are the favorites and justifiably so. While a few of their Champions League performances, as well as the pressing game of Borussia Dortmund, have shown that they are, indeed, mortal, it will take a full 90 minutes of organized teamwork for Madrid to come out on top. This means help in defense from the front three, physical and organized play from the midfield not allowing any gaps and a smart, clean showing from the defense (I'm looking at you, CBs). Madrid definitely has the offense to hang with Bayern but both defenses will have the spotlight firmly shining on them.

Projected lineup for Bayern Munich: Neuer, Alaba-Dante-Boateng-Lahm, Kroos-Schweinsteiger, Ribery-Müller-Robben, Mandzukic

Projected lineup for Real Madrid: Casillas, Coentrao-Ramos-Pepe-Carvajal, di Maria-Alonso-Modric, Ronaldo-Benzema-Bale

Projected score: 1-1, a careful and reserved showing for both sides in order to set up a colossal clash in Germany. But then again, I can just as easily see it ending up a 4-3 shootout.

(Author's note: Bayern fans, please feel free to chip in with your analysis as I haven't spent nearly as much time watching your club as you have. Mostly out of fear, partly out of hate for Arjen Robben. Thanks!)

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