Bayern Munich-Real Madrid: a duel of regulars in the semi-finals of the Champions League

Tuesday April 30, at 9 p

Bayern Munich-Real Madrid: a duel of regulars in the semi-finals of the Champions League

Tuesday April 30, at 9 p.m., two of the finest records in European football face off in the semi-final first leg of the Champions League. Bayern Munich, six-time winner of the competition, welcomes Real Madrid, the most sacred club, with its fourteen “big-eared cups” to the Allianz Arena. A prestigious poster for a great classic: the two teams have already crossed swords twenty-six times in the tournament since the 1975-1976 edition of what was then called the Champion Clubs' Cup; among them, fourteen matches from the last four (seven semi-finals, with double confrontations). A record.

Obviously, these duels gave rise to legendary encounters. In 2000, for example, the Merengue, led by Iker Casillas, deprived the Germans of the final thanks to Nicolas Anelka, newly arrived at the club: scorer in the first leg – which ended in a success for Real on home soil (2 -0) -, the French international once again made the difference with a superb header and qualified his team despite the defeat in Bavaria on the return leg (2-1).

Already the executioner of Munich when he was a player (in 2002 and 2004), another Blue, Zinédine Zidane, was also ruthless on the Madrid bench in 2017 and 2018, coronation years for the Spaniards. The first time, it was in overtime that Cristiano Ronaldo's Real took out the German champions in the quarter-final second leg (4-2), after winning against their rivals in act 1 (1-2 ). The following year, the Merengue won again by the same score away (1-2), then a double from Karim Benzema (2-2) opened the doors to the final.

In 2012, it was Manuel Neuer who disgusted José Mourinho's Galacticos in the semi-finals. Winners 2-1 in the first leg on home soil, the Bavarians saw the return match at the Santiago-Bernabeu stadium initially turn into a nightmare, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a double in the first quarter of an hour. Arjen Robben will reduce the gap before the half-hour mark and the two teams will finally decide in a historic penalty shootout.

The German goalkeeper, at the top of his game, stopped Ronaldo's attempt and that of Kaka, on his right side. Casillas stopped the strikes of Toni Kroos, then Philipp Lahm. Madrid defender Sergio Ramos shot above Neuer's cage and it was Bastian Schweinsteiger who finally freed his team. Ironically, the Bavarians will fail against Chelsea in the next round... on penalties.

“It’s going to be a balanced, competitive match.”

More than ten years later, some players from these previous editions are still there – Manuel Neuer, Luka Modric, Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos – but the two regulars of the last four have changed a lot. German champion eleven years in a row, Bayern have already lost their Bundesliga crown – to Bayer Leverkusen – and could end this season without a title in the event of failure in the Champions League.

Eliminated from the Cup – by Saarbrücken, a third division club – and from the Supercup, the Rekordmeister, led by Thomas Tuchel, only has the big-eared cup left to save a 2023-2024 financial year marked by inconsistency and a defensive sector in crisis – 38 goals conceded in the league in 31 matches.

If he starts on Tuesday, Thomas Müller will honor his 150th Champions League match. Only Iker Casillas (150 games with Real Madrid) and Xavi (151 games with FC Barcelona) have done better in the history of the competition. But Bayern's hopes will rest above all on English international Harry Kane, author of 42 goals this season, including seven in the European tournament, to which must be added three assists. He will have a hard time facing Antonio Rüdiger, who was able to contain Mancunian striker Erling Haaland in the quarter-finals. The task promises to be all the more complicated for the Germans as several players, including midfielder Jamal Musiala and central defender Matthijs de Ligt, are doubtful for Tuesday's match.

For its part, the immortal Real Madrid eliminated the defending champion, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, on penalties. Serene, particularly in defense, Carlo Ancelotti's men, leaders of La Liga, impress with their ability to overturn poorly started games with very experienced players such as Nacho, Antonio Rüdiger, Luka Modric or Toni Kroos, and brilliant young people such as Jude Bellingham (20) or Brazilian duo Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr. (both 23). Capable of ultra-fast offensive transitions, they now present themselves with the best attack in the competition (22 goals), and therefore logically in the position of favorite.

But watch out for Bayern, who will want to return to Wembley Stadium in London, where the final will be played on June 1. Where, in 2013, he won his penultimate Champions League, to the detriment of Borussia Dortmund. “They've had a tough season, but they're probably in their best form right now. And they have Harry Kane, who scores a lot of goals. It’s going to be a balanced, contested match,” White House coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted in a conference. Especially, Bayern midfielder Leon Goretzka wants to believe, that “something emerged [in the quarters] against Arsenal”. Response to the final whistle of the return match, in Madrid, on May 8.