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.
Apr 17, 2014, 12:24 AM EDT
Week one of the NWSL season sees Seattle atop of the league, but an import from Spain snagged her own headlines for Western New York.
Apr 16, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
It took six-and-a-half weeks, but last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners have their first victory of the season.
Apr 16, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
Three matches the shoot up the title, Champions League races:
Apr 16, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
One location is the clear favor for No. 24, but down to one slot, the competition could pick up.
Apr 16, 2014, 7:57 PM EDT
Like his players, City’s boss has plenty of questions to answer after Wednesday’s disappointment.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT
If Atlanta, Miami aren’t good sports towns, it may not matter. The doubts critics have cast on the league’s Southeast excursion may be irrelevant.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT
Top four hopes over for Everton?
Apr 16, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
Real win Copa del Rey as Barcelona’s bad run continues:
Apr 16, 2014, 5:26 PM EDT
One more spot in MLS’s planned expansion is gone, with Atlanta set to begin play in 2017.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT
Two late goals gave Sunderland a lead, one City pulled back just before full-time.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT
Eagles soar to safety, but Everton’s Champions League dreams are in ruins:
Apr 16, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Two of Serie A’s most productive scorers may not be at this summer’s World Cup. Llorente wonders why.
Apr 16, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Which Liverpool player picked up the Player of the Week accolade?
Apr 16, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Both sides look to cash in on matches in hand at the Etihad.
Apr 16, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Can Tim Howard and the Toffees win their eighth-straight game? Watch live online, right here:
Apr 16, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Having MLS teams share their home with NFL sides could be a smart move ahead of the next wave of expansion:
Apr 16, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Find out who made the PL Team of the Week, right here:
Apr 16, 2014, 12:35 PM EDT
Two PL matches take place on Wednesday, with both set to impact the top and bottom of the standings:
Apr 16, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT
Are you ready to get ‘Duff-ed?’
Apr 16, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Watch all 10 PL games across 10 different channels on final day of the season. All the details, right here:
- NWSL Digest: Reign, Flash flying as we move past Week 1 0
- Henry, Sam goals see New York break into the win column 0
- Real Madrid beat Barcelona to win Copa del Rey, as Bale’s brilliance seals it 2
- It’s official: Atlanta gets Major League Soccer’s 22nd franchise 1
- Manchester City 2-2 Sunderland: Two Wickham goals, late Nasri equalizer leave sides even (video) 3
- Everton 2-3 Crystal Palace: Toffees’ top four hopes take huge hit 6