It’s time to get Real. Bayern Munich play the most important game of the season tomorrow, the second leg of the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid. After suffering a 2-1 defeat at home, despite being the better team, Bayern now must come from behind and defeat Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. Having conceded two away goals in Munich, Jupp Heynckes and his team have precious little margin for error.
Robben out, Javi and Alaba in
The biggest news to emerge in the past two days concerns Arjen Robben: he did not travel with the team to Madrid and naturally does not appear in the official squad. That leaves Bayern with just a single natural winger, the aged veteran Ribery, who put on one of the performances of his life in the first leg at the age of 35. Thomas Müller thus will very probably take Robben's place on the right wing of Bayern's offense, just as he did in the first leg.
Javi Martinez, who also suffered a minor injury in the first leg—it was feared to be a concussion—has fully recovered and will be available to anchor Bayern's midfield from his customary position in front of the defense.
The other major break is David Alaba: after struggling with sciatica over the past weeks, Alaba is at last fit to start at left-back against Madrid. He was replaced in the first leg by Rafinha, who put in a solid performance marred by a single fateful mistake that gave Madrid its second goal. Alaba’s availability is even more significant because his counterpart, Real’s left-back Dani Carvajal, remains injured.
Bayern’s probable lineup
The BFW staff is virtually unanimous: in all likelihood, Jupp Heynckes will roll out the following lineup to challenge Madrid on its home turf:
This lineup differs from the starting lineup of first leg in three crucial positions, but otherwise reflects the actual lineup that played after Robben and Boateng were injured: Niklas Süle replaces Jerome Boateng in the back line. Thiago starts in Robben's absense, and David Alaba replaces Rafinha at left-back. Süle and Alaba are like-for-like replacements, and Alaba is a considerable upgrade offensively.
Bayern will attack on the left with Franck Ribery, this time with the support of Alaba. On the right, Thomas Müller will roam far and wide, with Joshua Kimmich driving forward on the touchline. Thiago will lurk predominantly in the center midfield and slightly to the left, while Javi lies farther back in a central position.
James Rodriguez will play a key role as the central orchestrator of Bayern's offense and also a major player in its defense. A glance at James's heatmap from the first leg is very revealing:
If you had the impression that James was everywhere, that is because he literally was everywhere, contributing to the defense as much as to the offense—tying Thiago for a team-high four tackles. James will undoubtedly try to do it all again in Madrid.
Bayern must create and convert
It will be up to Bayern to convert its chances this time around: the lineup will be virtually the same, while Real is arguably weaker without Carvajal, and Isco may not be at full fitness after suffering a shoulder injury in the first leg. Bayern dominated Real in terms of xG (expected goals), but just could not get the ball across the line, while Real capitalized on a single mistake and a highly unlikely goal. If Bayern can duplicate that creativity and create as many chances, while standing firm on defense, they can realistically beat Madrid and advance.
All eyes will be focused on Robert Lewandowski. After a highly criticized performance in the first leg and reports of a lack of motivation or concentration in training, Lewandowski must silence his critics with a world-class performance we know he is capable of giving.