For Bayern München and Real Madrid, the hour is upon them. The match on Tuesday could determine the narrative of their entire season, and the beginning of Pep Guardiola's and Carlo Ancelotti's tenures hang in the balance.
This is the purpose of the Champions League; pitting two of the best clubs in the world against each other in a showcase for all the marbles. An aggregate victory for both will define not only their clubs, but their countries as well.
Bayern are 6-for-11 in turning over first-leg deficits, including two successful 0-1 comebacks, and have climbed out of deeper holes than the one they are in. Given Los Blancos recent trips to, Real Madrid can be vulnerable on the road, but have also found ways to prevail despite struggles.
Guardiola will have to find away around Ancelotti's wall and prevent another dagger from striking Bayern's hearts.
The Match (22nd Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: Pedro Proença
FC Bayern: 0 W, 0 D, 3 L – 5 YC
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Biggest Victory: 4-1 (April 8, 1987, Munich, Germany; March 8, 2013, Munich, Germany)
Biggest Defeat: 0-2 (March 16, 1988, Madrid, ; May 3, 2000; April 10, 2002, Madrid, Spain)
Scoring twelve goals in the last three matches in German competition reaffirmed that Guardiola's side can find the back of the net, even if the opposition was not up to snuff. The problem remains at the back, exemplified by the concessions to Werder Bremen in open play, a category that the Werderaner are one of the worst in.
Guardiola thus has the delicate task of balancing one of Europe's most potent attacks with the support necessary in defense in the second leg. Faced with a similar situation against Manchester United, Guardiola elected to put both Mario Götze and Thomas Müller in behind Mario Mandžukić, but the potency of Real Madrid counterattack will deter the Spaniard from repeating such a setup.
The two players that could stabilize both is Javi Martínez and Philipp Lahm. While he was one of the few who did not have an offensive contribution at the weekend, Martínez's return to the defensive midfield assisted Bayern's attempts to win the ball back quickly, allowing the attack to get back to work quickly. Lahm relieved Mitchell Weiser in fantastic fashion, stapling the right flank while bombing in terrific service.
If Guardiola were to place Martínez back in the center of the park, a position he has started in only twice during the Rückrunde, the certain combination of the central midfielders around him will have to be around him. One of them has to be able to put aerial pressure on Real Madrid's center backs, while the other will have to direct the buildup play. The pairing of Müller and Bastian Schweinsteiger would struggle to build up the play, while Götze and Toni Kroos and would not provide enough in the final third with the congested space.
Leveling the tie will give Bayern the best chance, and a goal concession will halt the Champions League defense right in its tracks.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Javi Martínez – Toni Kroos
David Alaba – Dante – Jérôme Boateng – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Lukas Raeder, Diego Contento, Daniel van Buyten, Rafinha, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze, Claudio Pizarro
(= yellow card danger)
Carlo Ancelotti deployed his side to perfection in the first leg, allowing Real Madrid to get the goal it needed while keeping Bayern off of the score sheet. Now with Cristiano Ronaldo restoring his form and Gareth Bale (flu) recovering from his illness, Ancelotti can field a side that pushes the defending European champions to the brink, with plenty in reserve to provide a finishing blow.
With the 1-0 advantage, Ancelotti has chosen to go for the sinking goal rather than defend for a consecutive clean sheet.
"I have a lot of confidence in the players and they all need to have it," he told the club's website. "The objective is to score and not defend. This is the line we're going to work along"
Bale's return will give Real Madrid defensive experience on the flanks with the speed to flash into the final third at the blink of an eye, an element that will help Ancelotti on both fronts. He will push Ángel di María deeper into midfield, although Isco might could get the nod again after the support he provided tempering Arjen Robben and Rafinha coming forward.
Marcelo (hamstring) gives Real Madrid depth in the all-critical defense, the Brazilian sprinting the flanks against Osasuna, although Fábio Coentrão's defensive attributes will probably be the utilized skill set. Pepe should be back in the side after leaving in the 73rd minute, training with the team on Sunday.
Los Blancos have not reached the final since 2002, but the current group gives them as much of a chance as any of punching a ticket to Lisbon.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3)
Cristiano Ronaldo – Karim Benzema – Gareth Bale
Luka Modrić – Xabi Alonso – Ángel di María
Fábio Coentrão – Sergio Ramos – Pepe – Daniel Carvajal
Bench: Diego López, Marcelo, Raphaël Varane, Asier Illarramendi , Casemiro, Isco, Álvaro Morata
(= yellow card danger)
The tasks at hand are as clear as a summer Tuesday in Hawaii: Real Madrid must sneak another goal past Neuer, and Bayern must do everything to prevent one. The number of goals Bayern score could be irrelevant if Real Madrid get on the score sheet, although any two-goal advantage would give them the edge. Odds are against Casillas getting a consecutive clean sheet, although they are stacked against Neuer collecting one as well. Only once has a club reached the final following a title in the Champions League era, and the pontent white attack will prevent Bayern from being the second.