Can teams be rivals if they don’t play every year?
It’s tough to gauge how much hostility exists between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the moment. Real and Bayern have taken similar approaches to building their teams lately, each blending homegrown talent with world-class signings, hiring Carlo Ancelotti, and having an unhealthy obsession with playing on the wings of the pitch. They’re birds of the same feather, birds with big checkbooks and stuffed trophy cases.
They don’t play often, but when they do the stakes are almost always ridiculously high (excepting that time Danilo scored a late winner during the Heineken International Champions Cup in New Jersey, a sentence that honestly sounds like a mad-lib).
The amount of hard tackles and other after-the-whistle bickering might tell us early on how these teams feel about each other, but until then, there’s certainly a great deal of narrative that’s entertaining to entertain before Madrid travel to Germany next month.
The glaring story is Zinedine Zidane taking on former mentor Carlo Ancelotti. Zidane described their relationship as pupil and teacher after his time as Ancelotti’s assistant in Madrid, and there seems to be a genuine mutual respect between the two. We’re not likely to see Zidane and Carlo get in each other’s faces a la Mourinho and Wenger, but neither will want to give the other the last laugh.
There are also plenty of homecomings for players, most notably Xabi Alonso and Toni Kroos.
Kroos and Xabi are facing their former clubs, for which they seem to have a lot of affection. They’re each likely to receive applause during their respective homecomings. It’s worth mentioning Arjen Robben as well, though it’s been so long since he was at the Bernabéu that his return will hardly be a point of drama.
Then there’s Manuel Neuer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
These two don’t care too much for each other. Neuer’s save on Ronaldo’s penalty in 2012 set the tone for the shootout...which...well you know. Ahead of the 2014 Ballon d’Or Neuer said, “I’m not some guy who poses in his underwear,” a not-so-subtle dig at Ronaldo.
Ronaldo responded to Neuer’s penalty save in 2014 with, by far, the most excessively hubristic free kick I’ve ever seen taken. He’d already set the record for most Champions League goals in a season, Real were through to the final, and his under-the-wall free kick goal past Neuer was just disrespectful.
Something about the world’s most prolific goal scorer and most prolific shot-stopped hating each other feels right. They’re each athletic anomalies, they know how good they are, and are actually pretty perfect rivals for each other.
If anything, Real and Bayern hate each other for what they’ve done to each other recently, specifically at home. Real lost the 2012 shootout in the Bernabéu, and Bayern suffered their worst ever European defeat at the Allianz in 2014.
Unlike El Clásico and Der Klassiker, in which the teams involved hate each other on a genetic level, animosity between Real and Bayern may exist simply because they’re tired of kicking the crap out of each other every two years.