Real Madrid and Bayern Munich renew their storied European rivalry in the Champions League on Wednesday, with the Bundesliga champion dominating their history.
The first-leg semifinal at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium marks the 20th time the clubs will meet in the continent’s top competition, and marks Bayern coach Pep Guardiola’s first return to Spain since leaving Barcelona.
Nine-time champions Madrid, coming off its Copa del Rey triumph over Barcelona, are looking to end a run of three straight semifinal exits to reach their first final since 2002.
The clubs have met in five European Cup semifinals with titleholders Bayern winning four of those, including when they ousted Madrid two seasons ago on penalties. Both teams have been bolstered by the possible return of pivotal players from injury.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return against Bayern will be a game-time decision after he completed a full training session on Monday for the first time since hurting his left leg. Ronaldo, tied for the Champions League record of 14 goals in one season, was nursing a sore knee before the muscle injury sidelined him for four games. Gareth Bale, meanwhile, missed Monday’s training due to flu but should be available. His late winner in the 2-1 Copa del Rey final win over Barcelona delivered Madrid its first silverware this season.
Manuel Neuer should be fit to line up in the Bayern goal after recovering from a calf injury. The Germany goalkeeper missed the German Cup semifinal win over Kaiserslautern and the 2-0 league win at Eintracht Braunschweig on Saturday but returned to running exercises last Thursday.
“I feel quite good. I presume I’ll be able to play,” said Neuer, who trained over the weekend, as did injured defenders David Alaba and Diego Contento.
BAYERN NEED TO STEP UP
Bayern failed to impress in Saturday’s win at bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig, and were warned by Guardiola.
“We won’t reach the final if we don’t produce two outstanding performances,” said Guardiola, whose side failed to win in three Bundesliga games after clinching the title.
Ancelotti faces tough choices, as midfielder Isco has been stellar in stepping in for Ronaldo. But the Spain international looks set to be sacrificed with Ronaldo’s return and Angel Di Maria’s good form.
Dubbed “la bestia negra” or “the black beast” by fearful Madrid fans, Bayern have come to represent a thorn in the side of record nine-time winners Madrid. Bayern, five-time winners, have won semifinals in 1976, 1987, 2001 and 2012, with Madrid’s sole win coming in 2000. Altogether, Bayern has 11 wins from the sides’ 20 meetings, with Madrid’s seven wins all coming at home. Madrid is unbeaten at home in the Champions League for 17 games dating to 2011, when Guardiola guided Barcelona to a 2-0 victory. Guardiola has never lost as a coach at the Bernabeu.
Madrid does have a wild card in Ancelotti, who has never lost in six meetings against Bayern including four victories.
“They aren’t the ‘bestia negra’ for me,” Ancelotti reminded on Tuesday.
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