Apr 17, 2012, 2:04 AM EST
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.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:03 PM EST
Maybe Sunderland just doesn’t know how to use its forwards.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:54 PM EST
It was sloppy at times, with the States very much getting used to the 3-5-2 and both sides using a bevy of second-choice players.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:48 PM EST
Brek Shea’s first USMNT goal in a year and a half was a pretty nice finish.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
Arda Turan was fouled, losing his shoe in the process. Since the linesman didn’t deem the offense worthy of a foul, Turan had one recourse.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando is between the sticks for the States, and Jermaine Jones continues his time as a center back.
Jan 28, 2015, 4:52 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 3:57 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 3:01 PM EST
Huge trade now makes sense as Kljestan arrives in MLS.
Jan 28, 2015, 2:39 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 1:10 PM EST
Wenger get’s his man as Arsenal’s new center back has finally arrived.
Jan 28, 2015, 12:28 PM EST
Costa could miss Chelsea’s massive clash against Man City on Saturday. All the details, here.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
Chelsea’s injury problems are piling up ahead of their huge tilt against City this Saturday.
Jan 28, 2015, 10:36 AM EST
After seeing red, Ronaldo will now miss Real’s next two games after ban for violent conduct.
Jan 28, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Is Figo the man to take charge of world’s soccer’s governing body?
Jan 28, 2015, 9:25 AM EST
Super Bowl week brings out two NFL players for the latest podcast.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:01 AM EST
Michael Oliver, it’s over to you…
Jan 28, 2015, 7:55 AM EST
Bale tells Spanish radio station that he’s hanging around in the Spanish capital for some time to come.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Already it feels like Montreal has a major chance to be the winner in this deal, and that’s before they do anything with the allocation money.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
It certainly wasn’t the wildest of days for the transfer rumor mill, but Manchester United, Southampton and Crystal Palace all said hello.
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