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From the Merengue's Mouth: Our Interview with Managing Madrid

Before tomorrow's big match, we decided to go behind enemy lines to get a new angle on the story. What follows is our interview with Gabe Lezra, editor-in-chief of Managing Madrid, SB Nation's Real Mardid blog. Gabe was helpful enough to answer a few questions and try to provide some insight.

In addition to this interview, we also gave our own interview to Managing Madrid, which they're going to post sometime today or tonight. Also, we're going to do a Podcast after the first match to break down the action and look ahead to the second leg. So head over to their site and see how things look through the looking-glass (be pro-Bayern, but be civil). But first, check out the interview with Gabe, below (my questions in bold, his answers in regular text):

1. I see you rolled your way into the Semis. Dios mio, man! Liam and me - we gonna fuck you up.

Sie gehen nach unten! My friend, Google Translate, tells me this is a polite way of saying "you're going down!" though she mentioned that "unten" means "under," so I'm not quite sure if it works. Nevertheless, consider yourselves warned.

2. Real's depth of talent makes injuries and tough schedules easier to handle, but it also means that talented players are going to have to fight for playing time. For example, Kaka, Sahin, and a few others have been seeing a lot of the bench this year. Are there any elements of Jose Mourinho's rotation strategy you disagree with? Anything you'd do differently if you were in charge?

Hmm. Well, it's a really complicated situation, as this Madrid is so talented--but the fact is, it's much better to have this type of problem than the opposite. The tempting thing to say here is that I'd have rested Xabi Alonso more in favor of Nuri Sahin, who is a fantastic player, and will have a long career with Madrid. But the problem with that is that there have been rumors all year that Nuri has been injured--or at least recovering from an injury--and I don't know enough to say whether he was healthy earlier in the year. As it stands now, Xabi Alonso is looking a bit tired, and Nuri has seen a lot of the pine, so my hindsight tells me that Nuri should have gotten in more--but like I said, it's not clear that he was ready to play earlier.

As far as some of the other rotation issues, I don't have any problems with Mourinho's strategy. I tend to defer to His genius as much as possible (yes, I capitalized that intentionally).

3. Give us back our Özil.

Just say "Mesut Özil, inducted into Real Madrid hall of fame, 2040" fifty times. It'll start to sink in.

4. From what I've seen, Benzema and Higuain are pretty much an "either / or" - they don't usually see the field at the same time. Who do you think we'll see in the first leg tomorrow? Am I correct in assuming that most Real fans would rate Benzema a little higher for the biggest matches?

Yes and no--you're right about most things, though Mourinho has been experimenting with both of them a lot recently. In fact, the Benzema-Ronaldo-Higuaín trident has been Madrid's go-to formation in come-from-behind situations over the past month. In this case, what tends to happen is Benzema drifts to the wing in a more creative role, while Higuaín mans the center and Ronaldo takes over one of the wings; then, the three move around interchangeably, with Benzema and Ronaldo occupying the forward playmaking roles in front of Mesut, Di Maria and company.

In terms of who people rate higher, I think it's more or less a wash--it might slightly tip towards Benzema in big games, but only slightly. Higuaín has a strong contingent of support because he tends to fill a slightly different function: Benzema is a much better playmaker in a general sense (he creates lots of goals, which is the fancy way of saying he scores and gets assists) while Higuaín is more of a scorer par excellence. It depends on your taste in forwards, I think.

5. I've only been seriously following football for 5 or 6 years, and I've been writing the Bayern blog for a little over a year. I never really considered Real and Bayern to be heated rivals (we haven't met in the Champions League since 2007, and we've each had dozens of other rivalries, storylines, and big matches since then). I actually sorta like them.

But apparently there has been bad blood in the past - the NYT even ran a bit about several controversial matches between the clubs. Do most Madrid fans consider Bayern to be one of their sworn foes? Is this upcoming tie bigger than just the last obstacle before the CL final?

This is an interesting question: a few years ago, Bayern and Real Madrid were certainly sworn enemies, no doubt. But as they haven't played since 2007, and as both clubs have had some major shakeups since, many fans have forgotten, or glossed over the old rivalry. In my memory, the key to the rivalry was palpable dislike between Real Madrid captain Raúl, and Bayern captain Oliver Kahn--they hated each other. Since they've both left, a little fire has come out of the rivalry--so much so that I'd barely qualify it as a rivalry at all (I know that I personally admire and enjoy this current iteration of Bayern, which is something I would have a hard time saying about a team I feel a deep rivalry with).

At the same time, I remember that 2007 match vividly, and there was definitely a level of passion there that exceeded a normal Champions League tie.

6. Seriously, who the hell do you think you are? Give us back our Özil.

Wait, what is that? Oh, right, it's the sound of Mesut saying that he wants to end his career with Madrid.

7. Your prediction for the first leg:

I'd bet on something like 1-1, probably. Winning in the Allianz Arena will be tough for Madrid, but I can't imagine that they won't score.

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