Apr 17, 2012, 2:04 AM EDT
If Tuesday is Bayern’s last home game of Champions League, 2011-12 will be considered a failure. Their recent league loss to Borussia Dortmund made regaining the Bundesliga a pipe dream, and while the German Cup is still in play, only an appearance in the Champions League final will validate their season. With the May 19 finale slated for their home field, Allianz Arena, making the last two has always been obligatory.
Rightfully, Real Madrid is seen as the favorite, but the class in Bayern’s side cannot be ignored. Whereas most of Real’s opponents wouldn’t place one player in José Mourinho’s lineup, a number of Bayern stars would compete for spots. In some minds, Manuel Neuer is Iker Casillas’ equal in goal. Defender Phillip Lahm and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger would slot right in, while room could be make for attackers Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller. With Mario Gomez of a similar caliber to Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, most of Bayern’s XI can be seen as equal (or better) to their opposing number.
And then there’s Bayern’s most talented player, Arjen Robben. Along with fellow Netherlands international Wesley Sneijder, Robben was castoff by Real Madrid before the 2009-10 season. Both players tried to stay at Real, with many asking the obvious: Why wouldn’t a team want to keep Robben and Sneijder? But with the latest Florentino Pérez reign having just bought Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, recoup some of the €253 million outlay became more important. Real eventually convinced their Dutch stars to move on.
Less than a year later, both were back at the Bernabeu, Bayern eventually losing to Sneijder’s Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League final. That year, Real Madrid went out to Lyon in the round of 16, their last tournament before recruiting Mourinho.
Tuesday will be the first time El Real has faced Robben or Sneijder since their sales.
“I had some very good years at Madrid,” Robben told Spanish outlet Marca. “It’s a great club, and it’s obviously special to face my old teammates, but I have been at Bayern for a while now and I am happy here. I am thinking above all about getting to the final, whoever the rival is.”
Above all, it’s about getting to the final. It’s not about the next game. It’s not about winning Champions League. It’s not even about the unique challenges of facing one of the world’s two best teams. Even for Robben, a man who has every motive to make the semifinal personal, a Madrid matchup is inconsequential next to the ultimate goal. Bayern must make a Munich final.
If they’re to do so, Robben has to lead the way. As much talent as Bayern has, Robben is on another level. At his best, he’s as good as Cristiano Ronaldo, his left-foot arguably the game’s most dangerous weapon (as Manchester United found out two years ago). The only things keeping him from sharing Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s rarified air are consistency and health, neither of which should factor against Real Madrid. As he showed two years ago, a healthy Robben can carry a team through this tournament.
How Real deals with Bayern’s dangerman is José Mourinho’s first big decision, one he’s likely already made. At left back, he has to choose between the attack-oriented Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao, who is better suited for a more traditional fullback’s responsibilities. Most see Coentrao getting the call, which may have as much to do with opening on the road as Bayern’s right winger.
If Robben’s on his game, the selection may not matter. Whoever is Real’s left back will need help from Pepe from the middle, Sami Khedira in midfield. It’s the same type of multi-player approach any coach would use to neutralize any of the world’s best, an approach that carries an obvious limitation: If Robben is on, the plan may not matter. He’ll find a way to score goals.
The question is whether it will be enough. Two years ago, Robben was able to lead Bayern past Manchester United, but Real Madrid is worlds better than that United team. Not only will Munich need heroics from Robben, but they’ll need to stifle an attack that’s averaging over three goals per match in Spain.
Impossible? No, but you can see why most are picking Real to go through.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT
The Houston Dynamo downed Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, at Sporting Park on Friday night.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT
Will Bruin’s close-range finish put Houston ahead of Sporting Kansas City, 1-0.
Aug 29, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Orlando City SC midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired from professional soccer because of a medical condition.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Paulo Bento didn’t name Cristiano Ronaldo in his squad for Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Albania in early September.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo live on NBCSN.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
A new system would benefit domestic club winners by separating the teams into different pots.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Louis van Gaal thinks Luke Shaw has been coping with his injury problems well.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
The Arsenal manager will remain quiet to the media until the transfer window closes as rumors swirl around the Emirates.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Alessandro Del Piero is going to the Indian Super League’s Dehli Dynamos, bringing to surface political debate in Italy.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The defending champions will look to open the season with three straight wins as Stoke City visit the Etihad.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Southampton may acquire Brek Shea via loan.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Wrapping up our journey through the Premier League with the last five alphabetical names out of the 20-flight teams.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT
The one-time largest transfer in Premier League history is moving to Italy on loan, the Stamford Bridge club confirmed today.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT
News from the senior teams for the United States men and women comes across the web this Friday afternoon. What’s cooking? Head inside.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Brendan Rodgers liked what he saw in training from the club’s newest signing, but says the troubled Italian must change his ways at Liverpool.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
A Diego Costa injury could hurt Chelsea’s chances as the Toffees look to rebound from a tough draw against Arsenal.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, PSG and Arsenal all make the transfer churner to end the workweek.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Can Paul Lambert and Roy Keane convince the midfielder to come to Villa Park?
Aug 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
LVG says the addition of ADM won’t change his approach to building how United plays soccer.
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