Bayern, Madrid renew European rivalry in semifinal

By Drum Digital
22 April 2014

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich renew their storied European rivalry in the Champions League.

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich renew their storied European rivalry in the Champions League on Wednesday knowing only one of the football heavyweights will advance to the final.

The first-leg semifinal at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium marks the 20th time the clubs will meet in the continent's top competition, and marks Bayern coach Pep Guardiola's first return to Spain since leaving Barcelona.

Nine-time champion Madrid, coming off its Copa del Rey triumph over Barcelona, is looking to end a run of three straight semifinal exits to reach its first final since 2002.

The clubs have met in five European Cup semifinals with titleholder Bayern winning four of those, including when it ousted Madrid two seasons ago on penalties.

Here are five things to know ahead of the opening match:

RONALDO, BALE SET: Cristiano Ronaldo is set to return against Bayern after the Madrid forward completed a full training session on Monday for the first time since hurting his left leg. Ronaldo was nursing a sore knee before the muscle injury popped up and left the Portugal international, who is tied for the Champions League record of 14 goals in one season, sidelined for four games. Gareth Bale, meanwhile, missed Monday's training due to flu but should be available. His late winner in the 2-1 Copa del Rey final win over Barcelona delivered Madrid its first piece of silverware this season. Madrid, which will enjoy a full week off before the match, will also likely be able to count on fullback Marcelo returning from injury.

BAYERN INJURIES: Manuel Neuer should be fit to line up in the Bayern goal after recovering from a calf injury. The Germany goalkeeper missed the German Cup semifinal win over Kaiserslautern and the 2-0 league win at Eintracht Braunschweig on Saturday but returned to running exercises last Thursday. "I feel quite good. I presume I'll be able to play," said Neuer, who trained over the weekend, as did injured defenders David Alaba and Diego Contento. Neuer's deputy, Tom Starke (elbow), and Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara (knee) are out.

IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: After failing to impress in Saturday's win at bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig, Bayern knows it needs to improve for arguably its toughest games of the season. "We won't reach the final if we don't produce two outstanding performances," said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola, whose side failed to win in three Bundesliga games after clinching the title. "We're a good team when we play at full throttle. We're not at our best level at the moment and it's clear to us we need to improve." Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said Bayern on Wednesday needs "at least one goal. That was shown by the Dortmund against Real Madrid games." Dortmund lost 3-0 in Madrid and was eliminated despite beating the Spanish side 2-0 at home.

TOUGH CHOICES: Carlo Ancelotti's lineup to face Bayern will be a tough choice, as midfielder Isco has been stellar in stepping in for the injured Ronaldo. But the Spain international looks set to be sacrificed with Ronaldo's return and Angel Di Maria's continued good form. Ancelotti elected to keep Di Maria over Mesut Ozil last summer, selling the Germany playmaker to Arsenal.

'THE BLACK BEAST': Dubbed "la bestia negra" or "the black beast" by fearful Madrid fans, Bayern has come to represent a thorn in the side of record nine-time winner Madrid. Bayern, a five-time winner, has won semifinals in 1976, 1987, 2001 and 2012, with Madrid's sole win coming in 2000. Altogether, Bayern has 11 wins from the sides' 20 meetings, with Madrid's seven wins all coming at home. Madrid is unbeaten at home in the Champions League for 17 games dating to 2011, when Guardiola guided Barcelona to a 2-0 victory. Guardiola has never lost as a coach at the Bernabeu. Madrid does have a wild card in coach Ancelotti, who has never lost in six meetings against Bayern including four victories.

-SAPA

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