Apr 23, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Playing out as a treatise against the primacy of possession, Real Madrid willingly and victoriously ceded control of the home leg of its UEFA Champions League semifinal. Instead, hosting defending champions Bayern Munich, Carlo Anelotti’s side made the most of the few counter attack chances it was able to muster, defending a Karim Benzema opener for 71 minutes en route to a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéú.
The match’s only goal came with the game’s first true chance, with a counter down the home team’s left producing a ball fed into the Bayern area for Fabio Coentrão. The Ballon d’Or winner’s pass across Manuel Neuer’s six-yard box ended with Benzema’s uncontested finish, giving the nine-time champions an early lead. Despite late chances for Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, the advantage held up through Howard Webb’s final whistle, inching Ancelotti’s team closer to the club’s coveted decima.
Bayern would finish the match holding 72 percent of the possession, out-passing the Merengues 667-256 while only putting four shots on Iker Casillas. Real Madrid, in contrast, tested Neuer five times, proving more dangerous with the limited possession sought.
The same dynamic iss likely to play out next Tuesday at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich, trying to become the first back-to-back European Cup winners in 24 years, will need the goal it couldn’t craft at the Bernabéu. Real Madrid, seeking the club’s 10th European championship, will hope Benzema’s goal will help them avoid a fourth straight exit at the semifinal round.
Opening the match by dominating 80 percent of the ball — a rate that would persist through halftime — Bayern Munich assumed its expected control of the match, even if that control failed to translate into chances. Instead, it was Real Madrid the produced the night’s first true opportunity – a counterattack that led to Coentrão on the ball, approaching the byline. Drawing both Munchen central defenders wide, the Real left back was able to roll a ball across the top of the six-yard box to Benzema at the far post, with Manuel Neuer unable to get across to prevent an easy 19th minute finish.
Though Bayern continued monopolizing the ball over the next 26 minutes, all the chances fell to the hosts. In the 27th minute, a ball crossed from the left by Benzema took a subtle, unfortunate bounce on Ronaldo when the team’s leading scorer tried to one-time it near the penalty spot. In the 41st, Ángel Di María volleyed another ball crossed from the left over Neuer’s cross-bar, leaving the teams to go into halftime at 1-0.
Within minutes of the second half kickoff, Real Madrid was testing Neuer again, with a sharp angle shot from Ronaldo forcing Neuer to ground to protect his far post. Mid-way through the half, Ronaldo would have another chance from the left of the penalty area, one Neuer was able to push out for a corner. As Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola started making changes, the limited possession Real Madrid was electing to keep started to fade, with the Merengues left of hold out per the match’s final 10 minutes.
That spell produced a chance for Müller from just outside the area, though the German international left his shot just outside Casillas’s right post. In the 86th minute, Bayern’s best chance of the game fell to Götze, 10 yards out at the right post, though his attempt to go across goal was hit right at Casillas. A late penalty appeal from Müller was ignored by Webb, who eventually blew the whistle on El Real‘s first leg shutout.
It was the type of defensive performance which, if replicated next week, will see the Merengues to Lisbon – into the European final the squad could never reach under José Mourinho. Beyond those three years, though, Real Madrid’s Wednesday performance puts the club 90 minutes closer to easing angst 12 years in the making. Another showing like tonight’s in Germany, and the kings of Europe will get their change to reclaim their crown.
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