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Real Talk: Champions League Q & A with Managing Madrid

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We asked our friends at Managing Madrid for their take on a number of questions on our mind as we look ahead to Bayern Munich’s fiercest Champions League rivals.

After enjoying some good luck for once by drawing Besiktas JK and Sevilla FC in the previous rounds, Bayern Munich at last received the ultimate challenge: Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals. To some extent, it feels almost inevitable, as if the path to the Champions League trophy always ran through Madrid, despite their league form. Yet the clash still fills fans with mixed emotions of dread—and a desire for revenge.

We asked our friends at Managing Madrid some pointed questions about the upcoming UCL clash between Bayern and Real Madrid.

Question 1: What, if anything, concerns you as a match-up problem when facing Bayern?

To be clear, there is no ‘one thing’ that concerns me about Bayern. They are just a concerning team in general, and terrifying to play against, especially under Jupp. Zinedine Zidane will have to do his best to plug holes in a season where Real Madrid’s transition in defense has been abysmal.

Malaga v Real Madrid - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Marcelo is one of the greatest left-backs (offensively) ever. Defensively, he’s vulnerable. And that’s OK. We are generally ok, as Madridistas, in accepting who Marcelo is. What he brings to the table offensively is incredible, and completely trumps his defensive naivety. The issue is not that he’s not great defensively, it’s that Zidane has yet to find a scheme that masks it.

Toni Kroos tends to play high up the pitch under Zidane, and Casemiro is often pushed higher up the pitch to mask his technical frailties and the amount of times he’ll gift the opposition the ball deep in our half when pressed. In all this, Marcelo is generally caught high up the pitch too—leaving a lot to do for Sergio Ramos. Zidane will have to ensure Marcelo has proper coverage, especially against a team like Bayern who has so many offensive weapons

Question 2: Do you think James would have been better off in Madrid this season or was the move to Munich the best thing that could have happened to his career?

Real Madrid CF v Valencia CF - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

He absolutely made the right move. I love James Rodriguez. I think it’s crazy that we had a talent like him on our hands and decided we just can’t find a place for him. He’s elite at what he does, and to me, one of the best decision-makers in the final third on earth. I’m happy for him, but sad about his situation. I’m not Zidane. If I were Real Madrid’s manager, we’d be relegated. Having said that, it’s not that inconceivable you could find a scheme that would incorporate all of James, Asensio, Isco, and Bale regularly. Real Madrid has a track record of having their loanees knock them out of the Champions League, so I’m already preparing myself mentally.

Question 3: Is this Real Madrid’s last best chance with this particular group of players?

I mean, ‘this particular group of players’ is a broad way of putting it. There is a ton of youth in this squad. Having said that, if we’re to accept that the team’s older core is Marcelo, Ramos, Modric, Cristiano, and Benzema, than I suppose the window is tight. I don’t think it’s necessarily the ‘best’ chance. Cristiano is defying what we knew about sports science and what is possible at his age. Ramos, Modric, and Marcelo are still at an elite level; and Kovacic is a really exciting heir to Modric.

Question 4: Zidane made impactful subs in leg 2 vs Juventus at halftime, how do you think he’ll line up for each respective leg? Will there be different approaches to the 1st and 2nd leg?

It’s nearly impossible to predict what Zidane will do these days. Every match gives us a different scheme. It could be a straight up 4-4-2 with Asensio / Vazquez / Bale on the flanks, a diamond with Isco, or a 4-3-3. We’ve learned recently that some of the sure-starters from previous months—Bale, Casemiro, Benzema, Isco—are completely droppable in big games.

It keeps us guessing, and I guess the opposing coach guessing to. I think we have to flip this question: what scheme will help us mitigate the damage from Lewandowski the most? Will we play narrow like last season, where we let Bayern have the ball on the flanks and cut off the supply to Lewa? How will we deal with Vidal’s two-way presence and darting runs in the final third if he plays? Do Casemiro and Bale play to help aerially on set pieces against a strong Bayern side? All questions only Zidane can answer.

Question 5: What is your biggest concern in facing Bayern Munich with this roster and coach?

James will have a chip on his shoulder, so, um, that’s not good. As stated before, my biggest concern is making sure the flanks have proper coverage. I’m not terribly worried about Real Madrid’s attack, but I am concerned about the dominoes of sending bodies forward without proper coverage. I think Jupp will really take advantage of that. Also, can’t let Lewa leap all over us the way Mandzukic did. Having Sergio Ramos back helps.

Question 6: If Bayern get past Madrid over both legs, how’d that affect Zinedine Zidane?

I think he stays in the event of a loss, assuming the loss is narrow and reasonable. Historically, these Real Madrid—Bayern Munich clashes are very tightly contested and gut-wrenching for both sets of fans. It’s not unreasonable to lose on a narrow margin. If Real Madrid get blown away, obviously that’s a different story.