It’s here. Pep Guardiola’s defining moment has finally come. With a third Bundesliga title within his grasp, he undertakes another Champions League semifinal challenge, and this one could define the Pep Guardiola era.
Champions League preview
Champions League preview
Though Bayern Munich have lost each of the last two semifinals in embarrassing fashion to Real Madrid and Barcelona – five goals allowed in each of the last two semifinals – Atletico Madrid may wind up being the toughest. They have allowed just 12 goals in the Vicente Calderón this season, a defensive record at home that only Juventus can beat in Europe’s top leagues. Because they defend as a collective, Diego Simeone’s set-up is probably the only in Europe that can lose their best defender and produce similar results.
Atlético Madrid’s blockade has a good chance to send Bayern home with another underwhelming away result – 1 W, 4 D, 3 L in away legs in the Champions League knockouts. By the same token, Guardiola has the opportunity to reassert his qualifications as the world’s top coach. Beating the world’s best defense is certainly one way to put Guardiola back into the conversations as one of Bayern’s best ever coaches.
The Match (3rd Meeting)
Location: Estádio Vicente Calderón, Madrid, Spain
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Bayern: 3 W, 0 D, 0 L – 8 YC
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Television and Streaming:
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UEFA Champions League: 1 W, 1 D, 0 L
Largest Victory: 4-0 (UEFA Champions League: May 17, 1974, Brussels)
The task at hand for Guardiola is one few managers would feel comfortable taking head on, but he does have an advantage this season that he did not in season’s past. For once, he not only has a healthy squad, but one that clubs have tested throughout the season. Almost every player in his squad now has experience in a big, season-defining game, and that depth of experience is important at this stage of the tournament.
How Bayern attack will is important – they are playing a very good defense after all – but perhaps more important is how Bayern defend. While Atléti will be missing their best defender for the match, Bayern have brought theirs with them to Madrid, though Jerome Boateng would be a surprise starter on Wednesday. Whether they play with three defenders or four tends to be a matter of perspective, but they will have to switch between three and four defenders to make Atléti’s attacks seem irrelevant. The midfield was crucial to keeping Hertha Berlin from gaining any momentum over the weekend, and that will have to be the case on Wednesday as well.
Bayern’s attack will once again have to rely on the one-on-one ability of several of their players, but those kinds of skills are ones Atléti see on a weekly basis. What will be the biggest indicator of Bayern’s success is their interplay play, especially combinations with Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski. Defenses in recent weeks have done a solid job containing the two Bayern forwards, and but Bayern are going to need both in this game despite surviving on the contributions of others.
The next two fixtures are what eight months of work come to. In order to buck their semifinal trend, they will have to raise their level we have not seen for a while.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Franck Ribery – Thomas Müller – Douglas Costa
Arturo Vidal – Xabi Alonso
David Alaba – Javi Martinez – Joshua Kimmich – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Jérôme Boateng, Medhi Benatia, Juan Bernat, Thiago Alcantara, Mario Götze, Kingsley Coman, Rafinha
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Arjen Robben (groin)
Atlético Madrid have dared to challenge the La Liga status quo – both figuratively and literally – and it is working extremely well for them. After winning the title two seasons ago, they could be on track to win another, and despite a vast number of squad changes, they have returned to the late stages of the Champions League.
Their formula of success is simple: they defend better than their opponents and have forwards who can take on groups of defenders by themselves. The type of football they play is not necessarily the Spanish style, but the style in which they play gets them the results they need. Simeone is a sought-after coach for a reason, probably because he is able to get more out of their squad – one that includes Fernando Torres and Felipe Luis – than any coach probably could
However, the absense of Diego Godín will be an interesting loss Simeone will have to compensate for. Godín has missed matches in the past, but none of this magnitude. Considering his midfield is solid as a rock and he has gotten his young defenders seasoning, Simeone is very likely to come up with a solution that makes spectators easily forget Godín is watching from the stands. However, the defensive loss may be a latent burden on a not-so-prolific attack, one that struggled to score a goal from open play against PSV Eindhoven
Atléti does not know Bayern the same way their Spanish compatriots do, and the first impression they give will be one the German champions are not a fan of.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2):
Fernando Torres – Antoine Griezmann
Saúl Ñíguez – Augusto – Gabi – Koke
Felipe Luis – José Gimenez – Lucas Hernández – Juanfran
Bench: Moyá, Stefan Savic, Jesus Gámez, Augusto Fernández, Ángel Correa, Lucas Vietto, Yannick Carrasco
Out/Suspended: Diego Godín (hamstring), Tiago (leg)
This is the fixture for Bayern that will make them champions if they are able to advance. Atletico Madrid will challenge them in ways not many clubs have in recent seasons, and it will be an uncomfortable feeling the Bayern players will value regardless of the result. The way Bayern move in possession will tell a lot about their chances, for Atléti are certainly a team that can score against the run of play. This semifinal will be a long one for the Bavarians, and the result will be close enough to give both teams hope going into the second leg.
Projected Score: Atlético Madrid (1-1) Bayern Munich
The Other Action
UEFA Champions League semifinals
Manchester City vs. Real Madrid (Tuesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Europa League semifinals
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Sevilla (Thursday, 3:05 PM ET)
Villarreal vs. Liverpool (Thursday, 3:05 PM ET)