The second of the Champions League semifinals sees the two favourites go head-to-head in a clash of the European titans. In Wednesday's first leg, nine-time Champions League winners Real Madrid host the five-time winners and reigning champions Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabéu, in what is almost certainly a meeting of the world's two best teams at present.
Real Madrid are currently six points adrift of Atlético Madrid in La Liga, but have the greatest player around in their ranks in Cristiano Ronaldo. When Real click, they have the power to destroy anyone in their path, as a sorry Schalke learned the hard way in a 9-2 on aggregate defeat in the first knockout round. Providing they can keep it together defensively, the Merengues certainly have what it takes to win this tournament for the first time in over a decade.
However, Bayern's recent success in this tournament probably means they head in as favourites. Pep Guardiola's side may not look quite as sparkling as they did under Jupp Heynckes, but they've still romped to the Bundesliga title with the same squad that single-handedly knocked Barcelona off their lofty perch with their aggressive, high-tempo Champions League-winning football last season.
Real Madrid head into the game without the injured Álvaro Arbeloa and Jesé, while Sami Khedira hasn't yet recovered from his long-term layoff. However, the doubtful Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo are both included in Carlo Ancelotti's squad, so they could make their returns. Copa del Rey hero Gareth Bale is also included, despite missing training on Monday with the flu.
Bayern Munich have goalkeeper Manuel Neuer back available after a calf injury, with the German international fit to play. His usual backup Tom Starke is, however, definitely unavailable, along with the long-term injured Holger Badstuber, Thiago Alcântara and Xherdan Shaqiri. Everyone else should be available, despite some question marks over the fitness of David Alaba and Thomas Müller.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Dani Carvajal; Ángel di María, Xabi Alonso, Luka Modrić; Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale.
Bayern Munich (4-1-4-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm; Javi Martínez; Franck Ribéry, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Arjen Robben; Mario Mandžukić.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Bayern's right-back - Philipp Lahm is probably the world's best right-back, but that hasn't stopped Guardiola converting him into a deep-lying midfielder and playing the inferior Rafinha in defence instead. Whether the Catalan coach will switch things back on Wednesday remains to be seen, though Bayern fans would surely feel a lot more secure if Ronaldo is up against Lahm rather than his Brazilian teammate. With Ronaldo able to win a game almost single-handedly, it's going to be a key matchup.
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Real Madrid's centre-backs vs. Mario Mandžukić - Real Madrid's defence certainly isn't as strong as their attack, with their central defensive pairing of Pepe and Sergio Ramos both prone to high-profile howlers. Real Madrid's scare in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund -- when they lost 2-0 -- is demonstrative of the Merengues' tendency to lose concentration at the back, with Bayern striker Mario Mandžukić likely the man to try and force such errors from the defensive duo in this tie.
Separating these teams is an almost impossible task. If all goes to Guardiola's plan Bayern will likely see more of the ball, but could be vulnerable to Real's extraordinary pace on the counter-attack. However, as it's the first leg of such a significant tie we aren't likely to see too many goals, with a pretty cagey draw possibly in the offing. 1-1.