Bayern Munich v Real Madrid: Heavyweights no strangers to Champions League stage – or each other
■ Uefa Champions League: Bayern Munich v Real Madrid, Wednesday at 10.45pm on BeIN Sports
Real Madrid had every reason to feel vengeful when they last met Bayern Munich in 2014.
The Bavarians had knocked Jose Mourinho’s side out of the 2011/12 Uefa Champions League on penalties at the semi-final stage. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s spot kick confirmed victory on a night to forget for Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed his penalty.
The final was in Munich, where Bayern lost a European Cup final for a fifth time. Only Juventus have lost more, but Bayern did win the competition in 2013 and they were holders when they met Madrid in the semi-final stage of 2014.
Madrid destroyed them. Not in the first leg, where their 1-0 lead was considered a positive enough scoreline for both teams. But in Munich, where Madrid won 4-0 in an astonishingly one-sided game with both of their big-game guns – Sergio Ramos and Ronaldo – scoring two each to inflict Bayern’s heaviest home defeat in Europe.
It is curious that two outstanding teams can come face to face at the highest level and one can win so emphatically, but Bayern did exactly the same to Barcelona in the previous season, winning 7-0 aggregate over two legs. Sometimes there are no obvious answers in football, as anyone who watched Brazil 1 Germany 7 could attest.
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Madrid went on to win their much-heralded 10th European Cup in 2014 under now Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti. They had waited 12 years to win la decima but only had to wait another two to win an 11th trophy, in 2016, under Zinedine Zidane, who will take his team to Munich for tonight’s quarter-final first leg.
Along with Barcelona against Juventus, it is the biggest game of the round between two mega clubs. To underscore their quality, six of the 11 meetings between Bayern and Madrid have been at the semi-final stage of the European Cup or Champions League.
They have never met in a final, but these two European giants are the first and joint third-most successful on the continent with 17 European Cups between them (a record 11 for Madrid, five for the Bavarians).
Past games between the pair are well matched, with Bayern winning 11 of their 22 encounters and Bayern nine.
Both head their domestic leagues, with a season only considered a success by most of their fans if they win either the league or the Champions League.
Links are numerous, the most obvious being Ancelotti, but Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Xabi Alonso will both face their former club.
Kroos was involved in a collision with teammate Pepe in Saturday’s Madrid derby that saw the Brazilian fracture two ribs. Pugnacious Pepe, Madrid’s best defender so far this season and their goalscorer in the derby, will be a big loss, especially as Raphael Varane, another effective central defender, is also out injured.
Bayern, who hammered Borussia Dortmund 4-1 at the weekend with goals from Franck Ribery, Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben, have central defensive injury worries of their own.
The good mood following their weekend win was punctured with the news that Germany international Mats Hummels picked up an ankle injury in training on Sunday that will rule the 28-year-old central defender out of Bayern’s next two matches.
Jerome Boateng, who has only just returned from a long injury layoff, and Javi Martinez – one of four Spaniards in the Bayern team – would be expected to start as the central defenders.
Behind them, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has missed the past three games after surgery, but he has returned to training.
Bayern were defeated twice in the group stage in Madrid against Atletico and in Russia against Rostov, but they destroyed Arsenal 5-1 home and away in the last 16.
A similar scoreline is inconceivable against the European and world champions, who are unbeaten in all eight European games so far this term.
This will be the truest test of the quality of the German champions so far this season. They have to beat the best if they want to be the best.
Primera Liga in focus
Mighty Atletico host resurgent Leicester
As the planes carrying the 2,600 Leicester City supporters do their final turn for the Barajas airport, eagle-eyed fans will be able to see Atletico Madrid’s huge new home close to the airport to the east of the city.
There, season tickets will start at just €250 (Dh972) as Atletico seek to increase their average crowd from 44,161 to the 67,000 capacity of their new home. It is a big ask, especially as there have been 9,000 empty seats on average at each home Primera Liga game this season.
On Wednesday, though, there will be a 53,000 full house when they entertain Leicester in the Uefa Champions League quarter-final first leg.
The game could be the last European match at the Vicente Calderon; that famous, shabby, mostly uncovered, old arena on the bank of the Manzanares river in central Madrid.
The opening line of the club’s anthem is “I will go to the Manzanares, to the Estadio Vicente Calderon”. Fans will leave with a heavy heart, and rightly so, given it is home and one that is capable of creating one of the best atmospheres in Spain. But they are not ready to call it a day just yet.
Atletico are favourites to reach the semi-finals for the third time in four years. Diego Simeone’s side reached the final twice, in 2014 and 2016, losing both to Real Madrid. They also met their neighbours in the 2015 quarter-final and were again defeated, narrowly, by a late Javier Hernandez goal in the second leg.
Atletico have excelled in Europe in recent seasons, especially given that they did not even reach the Champions League between 1996 and 2012. But they have been badly stung by their final defeats, and Simeone has made it a priority to make it third time lucky this season. Atletico have won all five of the European games they have played against English opponents, but then Leicester were underdogs against Sevilla in the last 16 and still triumphed.
Leicester have only played in European competition three times previously, and two of those campaigns were ended by Atletico. They will also consider it an advantage to have the second leg at home, especially as they have returned to winning form under new manager Craig Shakespeare.
Leicester’s players were good enough to be crowned champions of England last season, but they do not possess a player of the talent of Antoine Griezmann, the Frenchman who is yet to win a trophy at the Calderon. Atletico’s side are a settled, winning machine in Europe, with quality throughout and strength in depth.
Their manager and president refused to say that they were satisfied with drawing Leicester, but they would not have hoped for any other opponent as they set about what they hope will be the penultimate – not ultimate – European game at the Calderon.
Player of the week: Jan Oblak
Atletico Madrid have boasted some of the finest goalkeepers in the world over the past decade, most of them in their early 20s. And Oblak is the latest. Man of the match in the Madrid derby, the 24-year-old Slovenian showed razor-sharp reactions which were decisive in Atletico getting a draw against Real.
Games of the week
Barcelona against Real Sociedad is on Saturday, as is the match between leaders Real Madrid and 18th-placed Sporting Gijon, a game that ended in a draw in their first match at the start of last season. Even after their European exertions, Atletico Madrid should destroy doomed Osasuna. Sevilla have a tough game at in-form Valencia on Sunday.
■ Former Arsenal defender Tony Adams is the new manager at Granada, the Primera Liga club seven points from safety in 19th place.
With only four wins from 30 games so far, it is implausible that the Englishman will keep them up and he has only signed to be in charge until the end of the season, but it is a chance for him to impress in a beautiful city.
■ This season will never be remembered as one of the best for Valencia, a club who should be pushing for a Champions League finish.
And even when they did they, finishing third in three consecutive seasons between 2010 and 2013, it was not considered good enough by their ever demanding fans.
Their manager Unai Emery was pushed out and obviously showed how limited a manager he was by winning the Europa League twice with Sevilla and being signed by Paris Saint-Germain.
Three wins in eight days have lifted the mood for Valencia and also lifted the team 14 points clear of the relegation zone. Few fans will complain that their Singaporean chairwoman Chan Lay Hoon has also announced that she will step down at the end of the season, but she worked hard at a club where instability has become the norm.
■ Eibar also won three in three and are now sixth and in a European spot. It is an incredible achievement for a club whose average crowds are not even half the second lowest supported club.
■ Sevilla fans showed their appreciation of outgoing sporting director Monchi, the main man behind them enjoying their greatest ever decade, by unfurling a giant flag in his honour outside the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. They also won their first game in seven attempts, defeating Deportivo La Coruna 4-2.
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Updated: April 11, 2017 04:00 AM