In the first leg of the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League semi-final. Bayern comes off a disappointing 0-0 draw in domestic play, which probably leaves us out of the running for the Bundesliga title. Our last few matches in this competition have been promising, though, as we decisively beat Marseille 2-0 in both legs and crushed Basel in the aggregate (despite a poor performance in the first leg).
Real Madrid is one of the world's preeminent sporting clubs, and their performance this year has been up to their own high standards. Although they've been largely overshadowed by rivals Barcelona in Spain over the past 3 years, this year Real has been in first place in La Liga for much of the season and has looked equally formidable in Champions League play. Their form has dipped ever so slightly in the past few weeks (a handful of draws allowing Barca to sneak back into the title race in Spain), but they still have a tremendous depth of talent and have to be considered one of best teams in the game.
No need for rotation at this point, this one's for all the marbles. It's conceivable that Jupp Heynckes could make a change to protect one of the several Bayern players one yellow away from suspension while we're at home, but that's very unlikely. Bayern will bring our "A" line-up, which is pretty much assured except for the question of whether to put Kroos in the midfield or to leave him on the bench for a late burst of offense and start with Gustavo's toughness and tackling power.
Ribery - Mueller - Robben
Schweinsteiger - Gustavo
Alaba - Badstuber - Boateng - Lahm
Kroos, Olic, Tymochuk, and Rafinha as possible subs. This would be the standard and most predictable line-up. Any chance Heynckes has been cooking up some secret new formation and is ready to bust it out at this most-urgent time? Hmmm ... nah, although that would make for an interesting scene.
Unlike us, Real actually DOES have a few different wrinkles they can throw at you. They're defense is usually pretty standard, with Casillas in goal and the back line made up of 4 of the following 5: Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa, Marcelo, and Coentrao. Interestingly, Coentrao hasn't been the answer they were looking for at FB. He's OK, but he's no better than the rest of their back 4 and has basically been a rotation guy. And this despite the fact that Ricardo Carvalho's injury has required a bit of shuffling.
From what I've seen of Real this year, Arbeloa is the one who has been surprisingly solid, along with Ramos, who's pure trophy-dropping class.
But in the middle and front of their formation, Real Madrid's line-up is far from certain. Ricky KA-ka probably only starts about half the time, and he's been juggled between a true holding middie role and a more forward spot. Real can run something like our 4-2-3-1, or they can show you a true 4-3-3 with the wings (the side guys on either edge of the front-most 3) made up of Cristiano Ronaldo and either di Maria, Callejon, Granero, or even Oezil (though he usually plays the central CAM role).
What they haven't really been able to do is get Benzema and Higuain on the field at the same time. With their similar styles and their equal need to be fed, it's usually an "either-or" with those two. My hunch is that Benzema will get the start. In fact, let's make a guess at a line-up:
Ronalo - Oezil - di Maria
Kaka - Khedira
Marcelo - Ramos - Pepe - Arbeloa
With Higuain and Granero the first forwards off the bench and Coentrao the first defender. So ... not a lot of weaknesses to poke at here. Can we all agree on that?
Elsewhere in the Competition
Barcelona vs. Chelsea. It's probably poor form to say "I just hope someone gets hurt," so I'll just go ahead and avoid discussion of this match-up, if that's cool with you guys.
- The match will kick off from the Allianz Arena By Some Other Name on Tuesday at 7:45 PM (2:45 PM Eastern here in the USA, 11:45 AM Pacific). It will be carried live on Fox Soccer Channel. We'll be here with the Match Day Thread and with video highlights as soon as they become available.
- Check back before tomorrow, we might be doing an interview or a podcast with Managing Madrid, SB Nation's Real Madrid blog. Also, if we get any Real fans in the comment section, try to be respectful. If they're trolling, I'll delete, but they're allowed to come and discuss football if they are acting appropriately. Thanks for reading.