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 20, 2013, 11:58 PM EDT
Expect this one to get worked out.
May 20, 2013, 11:23 PM EDT
If Real Madrid’s going to shake things up, Higuaín could do worse than land at The Emirates.
May 20, 2013, 9:45 PM EDT
Four players were on the original list. None of them may end up at Stamford Bridge.
May 20, 2013, 8:13 PM EDT
Our sympathy continues to grow for a man in a bad spot.
May 20, 2013, 7:21 PM EDT
MLS will not have arrived until it has a high-profile feces incident.
May 20, 2013, 6:40 PM EDT
It probably won’t happen this summer, and if it does … I’m sure we’ll run that into the ground, too.
May 20, 2013, 5:45 PM EDT
For a moment, it looked like Milan had fired their coaching staff … via an open letter from a television show.
May 20, 2013, 4:55 PM EDT
Real Madrid would have been in line for an eight-digit payday had they sold Mourinho to Chelsea.
May 20, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT
Odds on current U.S. Men’s National Team boss Jurgen Klinsmann to become Everton’s next permanent manager have dropped heavily today.
May 20, 2013, 3:45 PM EDT
Wherein we justify the selection of a center back, which always seems to be a requirement in these things:
May 20, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT
Sky Blue FC validates, Ali Krieger resonates, and four teams start to feel the toll of the new season.
May 20, 2013, 2:58 PM EDT
What’s been coming for a long time is now official. Jose Mourinho’s three-year tenure at Real Madrid has a finish line.
May 20, 2013, 2:39 PM EDT
Ben Olsen? Frank Klopas? … Someone else?
May 20, 2013, 1:47 PM EDT
The big, soon-to-be out of contract Galaxy center backs says talks with MLS commenced:
May 20, 2013, 12:35 PM EDT
That’s sarcasm. Ruiz was always bound to cause headaches, one way or the other:
May 20, 2013, 11:57 AM EDT
The first-year Red Bulls center back made a huge imprint on New York’s win over Los Angeles:
May 20, 2013, 11:32 AM EDT
There is still plenty of star appeal as the Europa League champs’ roster for a quick two-game tour of the United States:
May 20, 2013, 11:09 AM EDT
Kljestan becomes the fifth American to defend a title in a top league:
May 20, 2013, 10:18 AM EDT
The Scottish striker will hardly be missed around Vancouver:
May 19, 2013, 10:00 PM EDT
Sporting K.C. manager Peter Vermes and defender Ike Opera didn’t appreciate the pivotal offsides call that disallowed a possible winning goal against D.C. United, and they made that very obvious.
- Looking back at Week 6 of the NWSL season 1
- Movement in the LA Galaxy-Omar Gonzalez situation 5
- Premier League managerial pair blast squad and referee following final match 0
- VIDEOS: A brief history of recent “Olimpico” goals in MLS 3
- Where Landon Donovan’s afternoon takes us in the ongoing U.S. national team debate 7
- Wings stun Hawks again, take 2-1 series lead
- Posnanski: Once the best, Pujols now irrelevant
- Sports world keeps eye on Oklahoma tornado
- PBT: Vogel downplays war of words with LeBron
- HBT: Camera catches Marlins' Sanabia with spitball
- PBT: Howard reportedly frustrated with D'Antoni
- PBT: Durant, Thunder send support to tornado victims
- Play Video: Highlights: Union outlast Fire
- Play Video: Sir Alex says goodbye
- Play Video: Morgan committed to growth of new women's league
- Play Video: Boy with cancer, 8, scores against major league soccer team
- Play Video: Red Bulls pull off win on the road
- Play Video: Highlights: Montreal extinguish Chicago