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.
May 24, 2015, 12:29 AM EDT
In case you’d forgotten since last Saturday night, none of us know anything about MLS.
May 24, 2015, 12:10 AM EDT
To grind out a point in Sporting KC’s current predicament is impressive, but the Sounders were very, very poor.
May 23, 2015, 10:06 PM EDT
Last-place beats 1st-place — in other words, just another typical night in MLS!
May 23, 2015, 9:40 PM EDT
Two New England red cards changed the course of the game, which allowed the D.C. to claw back and steal a point (barely).
May 23, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
At what point is it no longer “early, still plenty of time” for the Timbers? We’re almost there.
May 23, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT
The final day of the La Liga season is in the books. Who finished where, and who was relegated?
May 23, 2015, 4:19 PM EDT
After 17 year at Barcelona, Xavi will leave the club this summer. On Saturday, he said his final farewell to the Camp Nou.
May 23, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
All 10 matches will be on the NBC family of networks, so be sure to click and find out where your club is featuring come 10 a.m. Sunday.
May 23, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
“We know we need to win it and we know we’re more than capable of doing that,” Meyler said.
May 23, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Carver’s bunch has played lackluster football while being waxed by clubs from the top and bottom of the table.
May 23, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Would the Blues still be champions with Lewandowski over Costa? Or would they have bought both and run rampant over Europe?
May 23, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor predicts the scores for Week 38.
May 23, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
The Real Madrid president reportedly met with Ancelotti’s agent to tell him they are likely going to part ways.
May 23, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT
Stuttgart won big to earn safety and send Hamburg to another nerve-wracking playoff.
May 23, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
The final home match for one of Dortmund’s most successful managers is looking to be a special one at Westfalenstadion.
May 23, 2015, 9:34 AM EDT
The future of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford is very much in doubt as a former Premier League manager has given the Dutchman a very tough decision.
May 23, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT
We all knew it already, but Sami Khedira will leave Real Madrid after five seasons. Where will he land?
May 23, 2015, 8:18 AM EDT
How can Hull City or Newcastle avoid relegation? Who will qualify for the Europa League? Find out all the scenarios for the final day here.
May 23, 2015, 12:37 AM EDT
Final: LA Galaxy 1-0 Houston Dynamo
May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire
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- Premier League Sunday preview: One last time, with feeling (and drama… and dread) 0
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- TV SCHEDULE: Premier League finale – 10 games, 10 channels on Championship Sunday 0