Though we had to play a two-leg playoff with FC Zuerich to even get in to the Champions League, it was widely speculated that Bayern would reach this phase of the tournament, along with those two Spanish teams. Of course, this was at the beginning of the season when the Bavarians were kicking ass and taking names. (We won't talk about that little stretch after the break. Oh, and this mini-stretch of crap luck now.) "What three teams play the best football in Europe", people would ask. The reply has been consistently been Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. In that order. Always. Regardless of table position, reality, or anything else. And, according to almost everyone that doesn't live in London, two of these three teams will be meeting on May 19th in das Beste Stadion der Welt--- the Allianz Arena. (I didn't tattoo the coordinates of it on my forearm for nothing, you know.)
Here's a few reasons why I think Bayern can get one step closer to their fifth European title:
Howard Webb is the referee. Oh, how it warms the cockles of my heart to see an English ref for this match! Even though he was in charge of our last Champions League Final in 2010; we didn't lose because of bad calls, we lost because of Hamit Altintop.... I digress... Mr. Webb is rated as one of Europe's very best, respected by pretty much everyone in the footballing community (except for Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel), and the first to control a CL final and a World Cup final in the same year. Even though he gave the Dutch nine yellows in that 2010 WC final, he also gave the Spanish five. And, yes. They were all well-deserved.
Why do I like English referees? Because the physicality between the English and German style of play is quite similar, thus giving us an advantage. And why do I like Howard Webb? Because he is fair. And with Kroos, Goose, Mueller and Boateng on two yellows, we need fair. Not Italian. And, not a Spanish ref from Madrid (see leg two against Marseille).
While many opine that Munich's back four is their weak point, I say to you: Au contrare! Munich has one of - if not the - best goals against percentage rate in Europe. Through 46 matches, Bayern have let in a paltry .59 in per match. Comparatively, Real Madrid's percentage rate is over 1.0.
OK, so this is partly because we play possession-based football. We don't let opposing teams have the ball to get shots off. And most goals scored against us were due to individual blunders rather than the collapse of the defence as a whole. (Except Mainz hanging three on us in November. That was utter collapse.)
With the attacking strength of both teams’ forwards and midfields, there will be no zone coverage or double marking. So, as long as Lahm, Boateng, Badstuber and Alaba mark well and don't make any stupid mistakes, we'll be just fine. On the Madrid side of things, Pepe and Ramos (like Badstuber and Boateng) can be prone to conceding unnecessary corners and free kicks, while Arbeloa and Marcelo will have their hands utterly full with Ribery and Robben. And conversely, Lahm will be troubled by the estimable Ronaldo, but judging by their international matches, I say Philipp's got a handle on this one.
We are playing at home. While historical stats are generally meaningless for a match of this magnitude, Real Madrid has only managed to win once on a German pitch out of 22 attempts. And, that was back in 2002 against Neverkusen... Oh, I mean Leverkusen. The four times Madrid and Munich have met in Champions League elimination action saw Bayern go through on three.
Manuel Neuer shows up for big matches. Big time. See the semi-final against Manchester United last year, the England - Germany World Cup match... Shall I go on? Iker Casillas, on the other side is as equal, though. Most everyone would rank these goaltenders one and two in the world, with number one relying solely on bias.
Offensively, this match is a push. The attacking prowess of both squads is mightily impressive. For Real Madrid, it's Karim Benzema up front, Mesut Oezil behind him and wings Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria. For Bayern Munich we've got Mario Gomez, with Thomas Mueller in the ten-slot, and Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on the wings.
My predicted starting XI's:
FC Bayern Muenchen: Neuer - Lahm, Boateng, Badstuber, Alaba - Schweinsteiger, Gustavo - Robben, Mueller, Ribery - Gomez.
The Spanish Team Not Named Barcelona: Casillas - Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa - Kaka, Khedira - Ronaldo, Oezil, di Maria - Benzema.
With the Bundesliga title certainly out of our reach, and only the Champions League and the DFB Pokal final to concentrate on, I feel Bayern Munich wins this first leg. Watch for my-man-of-the-match-with-a-huge-chip-on-his-shoulder-cos-he-sucked-against-Dortmund, Arjen Robben, to do something spectacular. A +2 goal differential heading to the Bernabeu next week would be delightful! And I'm salivating over seeing the choreography that filled-to-the-brim Allianz Arena will bring! Ladies and gentleman, the only matchday I can think of better than this? Well, we have to get through Madrid first.
One final note: Welcome, Madridstas! Remember that this is a Bayern Munich blog: I am encouraged to be biased. (Oh, and I am. Very much so.) Your comments will not be posted if you are trolling or insulting other commenters. (You can insult me, however, because I think it's hilarious.) But, let's try to keep the talk footie-related, cos I do love a bit of banter!
Mia san Mia.
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