Blog Post, Clubs, Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League


Assuming Real Madrid get past Bayern Munich, the ESPN FC pundits don’t favour them against Liverpool, their likely opponent.

“We should have beaten them 7-2,” Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich said after Real Madrid had carved out a 2-1 advantage in the Champions League semifinal tie to take back to Spain ahead of Tuesday’s return leg. “Real were dangerous only twice, while we shot at goal eight or nine times.”

The scorer of what could yet prove to be a vital goal, Kimmich exaggerated slightly, but the Germany-right back was only as wide of the mark as the 17 shots Bayern rained down on Keylor Navas’ goal in the Allianz Arena. Kimmich’s comment also echoed his coach, Jupp Heynckes, who described both of Madrid’s goals as “gifts”. Considering two of the visitors’ four attempts on target found their way past Sven Ulreich, it’s hard to argue with either of those assessments.

Real Madrid are well aware of Heynckes’ magic touch. It was the former Germany forward who delivered La Septima to the Bernabeu after a 32-year wait. And it was to their former boss that Bayern turned when Carlo Ancelotti’s reign — and the Bundesliga champions’ season — started to unravel.

Since taking charge of Bayern for a fourth time last October, the 72-year-old Heynckes has lost two Bundesliga games and sewed up the title with several fixtures to spare. He has also guided Bayern into the DFB-Pokal final, a 6-2 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen in the semifinals capping a run that dispensed with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

His progress through the knockout rounds of the Champions League has not been as spectacular as Zinedine Zidane’s, rather it has been … efficient. Heynckes uses words in the same way he uses his players: sparingly but to optimum effect. At the weekend he fielded the youngest Bayern side to feature in the Bundesliga since 1971, resting eight players who can expect to start in the Bernabeu. Munich still beat Eintracht Frankfurt 4-1 while Real’s B team, with a few players who may feature at some point on Tuesday, laboured to a 2-1 win over Leganes.

When he was last called out of retirement by his lifelong club, Heynckes delivered a domestic and European treble.

Zidane’s first Champions League campaign was a starter pack: Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City provided his route to the final. Last season was a little more testing with Napoli, Bayern, Atletico and Juventus picked off en route to a second consecutive title. But facing Heynckes with a single-goal advantage may be the Frenchman’s greatest European test yet.

Jupp Heynckes and Zinedine Zidane meet before the Champions League semifinal between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
Injuries have left Jupp Heynckes and Zinedine Zidane with tall tasks in their Champions League semifinal.

History favours the home side on Tuesday, but Heynckes has racked up an 84-percent win ratio in his latest tenure at Bayern. In the 2012-13 Champions League, Bayern’s last European triumph, Heynckes was the architect of a 7-0 aggregate victory over Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona in the semifinals.

The Bayern boss will be without the scorer of the winner in the final that season against Dortmund, Arjen Robben, in the Bernabeu, but both managers face selection headaches. Heynckes will also be missing key defender Jerome Boateng, although he will have David Alaba and Javi Martinez available after the Spain international was taken off with a concussion in the Allianz Arena, where Heynckes was forced into three non-tactical substitutions.

Whatever the veteran schemer had in mind for the final stages of the game was rendered irrelevant. Lightning of that sort rarely strikes twice though, and Bayern need to do just that to go through. Heynckes will have Plans B, C and D on his chalkboard in the Bernabeu.

Zidane has marked his backup resources this season and decided they are sub-standard and used them accordingly. Even Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have been relegated in the Madrid pecking order, and there is every chance neither will start on Tuesday. But Zidane has problems ranging beyond his misfiring strike force.

Lucas Vazquez may be required at right-back with Dani Carvajal ruled out and Achraf Hakimi hardly the solution to a one-game issue against a side of Bayern’s experience. But playing Vazquez in defence will rob Real of the Galician’s ability to put the opposition on the back foot from the right wing. Bale would be the obvious choice to play ahead of Vazquez, but that risks Real’s balance with the Wales forward’s propensity to drift into the middle, although he did his case no harm against Leganes.

Whether Benzema will start is open to question, but if Zidane risks Nacho at right-back and Isco in midfield to match his 4-1-4-1 in Munich — where Cristiano Ronaldo failed to find the target for the first time in this season’s competition — he faces the possibility of Heynckes’ dilemma in the opening leg.

The Bayern boss has the opportunity to flex his tactical muscle in the Bernabeu. If Zidane is forced into the same early changes that hamstrung his opposite number last week, he will invite the same chess game that Heynckes half-won in Munich.

In that case, if the Frenchman comes out on top against a coach with 35 years of top-level experience, it will represent his greatest checkmate in the Champions League to date.

Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.



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