Tomorrow Real Madrid step into deep waters, and will have to sludge through a difficult situation against an eternal rival that plays football at the most elite level on the planet. But, it’s not like Real Madrid haven’t been in this position before. Most recently in 2014, they blitzed a favoured Bayern Munich side 5-0 on aggregate, and before that, they’ve faced the Bavarians 16 times in the Champions League since 2000.
You have some important reading ahead of you before tomorrow’s bloodbath. Below is a Q&A with Ryan Copwer (@cowperryan) of SB Nation’s Bavarian Football Works. We did an exchange, so I also answered questions about Real Madrid over at the enemy’s base.
Also hot off the press is an article I wrote for Marca, which outlines some of the most epic moments from Real Madrid and Bayern Munich clashes. If you want to learn some more about the history of this match-up, you should head over and read it.
Kiyan: Enemy, ‘welcome’ to our base. Things that have changed since we last looted you: Toni Kroos and Xabi Alonso swapped roles, Ancelotti joined you, and Pep left (among other things). Let me ask you this: How much do you miss Toni Kroos; and how great was the Xabi Alonso experience?
Ryan: I can’t speak for every Bayern fan but I miss Toni Kroos somewhere between a little and a lot most days. He is the perfect midfielder, equally fantastic in a deep lying role as a regista, or as a box-to-box, or simply played as a traditional #10. His shooting range from outside the box was incredible to watch and I dearly missed what he brought to the table at Bayern.
For Bayern, they were really never able to fully replace him. He was the focal point of Pep Guardiola’s first year but after he left, they couldn’t fill that hole. Thiago and Bastian Schweinsteiger were all too often injured and Xabi Alonso proved too restrictive with his lack of mobility. Perhaps it wasn’t so much that Bayern never replaced Kroos in so much as it was we never got to see what a Kroos replacement looked like. Then Bayern moved on with the addition of Arturo Vidal.
As for Xabi Alonso, I believe I used the terms past it or defensive liability on multiple occasions and spent the first 15+ months of his tenure dreading see his name on the team sheet every week. But sometime around February last year, Pep Guardiola flipped a switch in Xabi. Somehow at the ripe old age of 34, Alonso learned how to defend. It was inexplicable and weird and I still don’t know what factor brought it about; maybe it was learning from Arturo Vidal. But suddenly, Xabi went from being a name I was scared to see to being a scary proposition for everyone else. It hasn’t been the smoothest road at times, but I would welcome Alonso back if he wanted to continue playing.
Kiyan: What are some of the x-factors here that Real Madrid should be worried about (apart from the obvious stuff, like, making sure Robben is forced outside, not inside).
Ryan: Thiago, Thiago, and did I mention Thiago? The Spaniard is the beating heart of Bayern Munich’s midfield and their most creative player. Limiting his ability on the ball will be key for Real Madrid but it’s not like they can just focus on him and shut Bayern down. Behind him is the raging storm known as Arturo Vidal and behind that is the passing acumen of Xabi Alonso. Bayern can really hurt someone with any of their midfielders.
Kiyan: This is a silly intangible, but, I'm curious to know your answer. How real is the 'revenge' factor with Bayern this year after what happened in 2014? It is crazy how these two teams have faced each other 18 times since 2000, and it's just a back-and-forth roller coaster where each team takes turns gutting the other.
Ryan: If Pep Guardiola were still at the helm In Munich, I’d have to assume the revenge factor would be huge. But the intense drive and zeal he imposed on his team has largely been replaced by Carlo Ancelotti’s more laisse-faire approach to squad management. Add in that Bayern have seen a great deal of squad turnover in many positions since that thumping they suffered in 2014 and perhaps it’s not so much a revenge game as it is a chance to knock Real Madrid off the perch that has seen them win two of the last three Champions League trophies. And I assume Bayern are always up for a chance to knock Real Madrid off.