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.
Dec 11, 2013, 1:28 PM EST
Which venues will the USA be playing in next summer? We take an in-depth look at them, right here:
Dec 11, 2013, 1:12 PM EST
Next stop: politicians. David Beckham’s bid for a stadium in Miami is moving ahead.
Dec 11, 2013, 12:34 PM EST
New York City FC is on the verge of getting a palace in the Bronx.
Dec 11, 2013, 12:09 PM EST
What? Roy Keane back down from a fight? Sir Alex and Keano still bitter after all these years.
Dec 11, 2013, 11:33 AM EST
Dwyer suggested a transfer abroad was imminent, but has backtracked.
Dec 11, 2013, 10:54 AM EST
Longtime Revs keeper and Boston Marathon bombing hero retires with 75 clean sheets and 110 wins.
Dec 11, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
Former Inter star sends Juve down to the Europa League with help from Didier Drogba.
Dec 11, 2013, 10:00 AM EST
Who’s hot and who’s not? Check out how the sides stack up after a double dose of action last week:
Dec 11, 2013, 9:50 AM EST
Any takers on these three countries as potential upset-springers in Brazil?
Dec 11, 2013, 8:52 AM EST
Could Newcastle set a standard in offering exclusive access to paying media members?
Dec 11, 2013, 8:31 AM EST
Has Wayne Rooney rejected contract talks with Manchester United? Can a suitor pry Vincent Kompany from City? All this and more in Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup.
Dec 11, 2013, 7:41 AM EST
Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini and goal scorer James Milner apparently in dark over UEFA Champions League tiebreaking rules.
Dec 10, 2013, 11:20 PM EST
Relax – the LA Galaxy and U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer isn’t going anywhere:
Dec 10, 2013, 10:31 PM EST
So the New York Red Bulls’ top organizational man says wants Henry to consider another year after 2014, eh?
Dec 10, 2013, 10:00 PM EST
Chelsea, Arsenal, and Barcelona look to close out their groups, while a qualified Atlético Madrid look to play spoilers in theirs.
Dec 10, 2013, 9:22 PM EST
As long expected, the high successful Real Salt Lake leader will guide Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise:
Dec 10, 2013, 8:41 PM EST
There aren’t many Champions League goal scorers among U.S. internationals, past or present:
Dec 10, 2013, 7:52 PM EST
Manchester United on the right side of a 1-0; Bayern Munich on the wrong end of a two-goal comeback.
Dec 10, 2013, 7:10 PM EST
If this is a central element, it’s not much of one. As a supporting piece, maybe it’s not so bad:
Dec 10, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
Just in time for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo has blessed the soccer world with one more achievement:
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