Why Bayern can still beat Real Madrid in the Champions League

Once again, Bayern head into the seething cauldron in Madrid. Once again, they find themselves having to come back from behind after a traumatic 1:2 defeat at the Allianz Arena. After last year’s heartbreak, it is now the time to break the spell of the evil white witch of Madrid.

Writing this, it feels a bit like watching the film Groundhog Day. Just over a year ago, I was reflecting on Bayern’s Champions League quarter-final first leg defeat against Real Madrid. Then, as now, Die Roten faced a trip to the Bernabéu after a 1:2 defeat at the Allianz Arena. Then, as now, the Bavarians had lost a game they should really have won.

Full circle

Bayern had taken an early lead through Arturo Vidal, but blew the chance to double the lead when the Chilean blasted a penalty high over the crossbar. Cue Cristiano Ronaldo turning up with two goals, either side of a second and fatal yellow card for Javi Martínez.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men had been the better team. Despite the defeat, there was a sense that they could turn things around in Madrid. It almost happened. Bayern managed to reverse the result of the first leg, taking the tie into extra time.

We all know what happened next. A succession of bad decisions from Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai and all of us left wondering just what had happened, and how.

So we come full circle. Last Wednesday, Bayern took the lead early in front of a packed Allianz Arena. It was a smart shot from youngster Joshua Kimmich, who beat the poor Keylor Navas at his near post. The home side continued to create chances, and should have scored a second when Franck Ribéry failed to control the ball with the goal at his mercy. Chances came and went, against an opponent that was looking vulnerable at the back.

Profligate Bavarians

Bayern paid dearly for their profligacy. Real equalised against the run of play, and at the worst possible time. With the men in red failing to clear their lines and smash the ball back up the pitch, Marcelo found the bottom right-hand corner of the net with a sweet finish.

As the teams walked into the dressing room at 1:1, many of us were left wondering just had happened. Not being able to convert chances. The equaliser just before half time. Then, the recurrence of that old curse, injuries. Not one, but two. First the creative Arjen Robben, then defensive rock Jérôme Boateng.

Still, we believed. Yes, the coach had been forced into making two early personnel changes. Yes, Real had scored an away goal. But Bayern could go on to score a couple more. Surely, the domination and opportunities would turn into goals. Indeed, the chances continued to come. Alas, it was an ongoing case of close, but no cigarro.

When Rafinha’s attempted crossfield pass was intercepted and Marco Asensio put Madrid into an undeserved lead, it was like a dagger through the red heart of every Bayern fan. Somehow, we just felt that something like that was going to happen. Football can be an incredibly cruel game, but it feels even crueler when the same story keeps repeating itself.

Good times

I have been a fan of FC Bayern for close to forty years, and have put this all down in my book, Red Odyssey. One of the recurring themes in the book is Real Madrid.

Over the years, the Bavarians have had their fair share of success against los Merengues. Victory in the semi-final in 1976, en route to a third successive European title. Surviving what could only be described as a physical assault in 1987. Winning home and away in 2001, before claiming a first European title in a quarter of a century. Mark van Bommel’s controversial bras d’honneur in 2007. Then, that nerve-shredding penalty shootout victory in 2012, which saw Sergio Ramos attempt to be the first Spaniard to send a satellite into outer space.

Memorable moments, and good times to be a fan of FC Bayern.

A Real nightmare

But this has been outweighed by plenty of dark moments. In 1988, the two teams met at the quarter-final stage. Bayern scored three goals in a ten-minute purple patch either side of half time and were seemingly on their way to the last four. It was all going so well until the Spaniards capitalised on a series of defensive blunders. In the last five minutes, they scored not just one, but two away goals. These late hammer blows proved crucial, with Real rolling out 2:0 winners in Madrid.

In 2000, Bayern had destroyed Real in the second group phase of the Champions League. 4:1 at the Olympiastadion, and a rousing 4:2 battering at the Bernabéu. When the two teams met again in the semi-final, every Bayern fan was confident. It did not end well. There was no repeat of the earlier result in the Spanish capital, as Real secured a solid 2:0 win. In the return fixture at the Olympiastadion, Carsten Jancker’s early goal was cancelled out by Nicolas Anelka, leaving the Bavarians needing three more goals. They could only muster the one.

In 2004 in the round of sixteen, Bayern had taken the lead with fifteen minutes left on the clock. It had been a tough match, one where the lead had been well and truly earned. Then, with seven minutes left, an audacious Roberto Carlos free kick squirmed like some evil worm under the body of the usually reliable Oliver Kahn. It felt like taking your own eye out. In slow motion. With a spoon. In the return leg, Zinédine Zidane scored early, and that was that.

Time and again, Real had done it when it really mattered.

From bad to worse

In recent years, things have gone from bad to worse. Not long ago, the Bavarians had been dubbed La Bestia Negra by Madrid fans. FC Bayern München was the only team the twelve-time European champions really feared. Until 2014, no Real Madrid team had stepped onto Munich turf and left with the taste of victory. On Wednesday, they claimed their third win on the bounce.

No amount of analysis of last week’s match will explain away the missed opportunities. Watching it again will not explain why Real were able to make their way back to Spain with a win, rather than a heavy defeat. After the match, Niklas Süle quipped that Bayern could have won the match 5:2. Only for Joshua Kimmich to throw in a quip of his own, saying that could have been 7:2.

And they were right. Despite the injury problems and the coach being hamstrung at the end as he looked to up the ante, Bayern could have been left sitting pretty. Some shots flew high. Some went wide. Others were kept out by the usually butterfingered Keylor Navas, who at times did not even seem to know what time of day it was. Robert Lewandowski, so deadly in recent weeks, had left his goalscoring boots elsewhere.

This, ultimately, is what can fuel our faith. Real will be the same team, with the same defensive frailties. We cannot surely miss as many opportunties. Navas will surely go back to palming innocuous shots into the back of his own net. Bob will surely remember how easy it is to score four times against this opponent.

Bayern have not won at the Bernabéu since the semi-final in 2001, but there is no reason to believe that it cannot happen next week.

Juve, Schalke

In short, if Bayern create anywhere near as many opportunities in Madrid, they will make it count. There is no way on God’s green earth – or hell, for that matter – that the same thing will happen again. Surely not. Score early, and Real will be put under real pressure, not least from their loud, obnoxious and notoriously fickle crowd.

It has happened before. We only have to look back to earlier this month, and just how close Juventus came to turning things around from an even more difficult situation. In fact, one could argue that they the Italians had gone to Madrid looking staring in the face of complete impossibility. And yet, they almost did it. Should Bayern win by the same 3:1 scoreline as Juve did, they will be in Kyiv at the end of May.

Juve were not the only team to almost turn things around in Madrid’s seething cauldron. In 2015, in the round of sixteen, Real had come away from Gelsenkirchen with a 2:0 advantage over Schalke 04. Unheralded, banal, Bundesliga-run-of-the-mill Schalke 04. With five minutes remaining at the Bernabéu, Die Königsblauen had carved out a 4:3 lead. As the Madrid crowd had started to gnaw on their fingernails, their goal was under siege. One more Schalke goal, and one of the most improbably turnarounds would have been achieved.

Should Bayern win by the same 4:3 scoreline as Schalke did, they will be in Kyiv at the end of May. It can be done.

Lewy or Wagner?

We know that Bayern will not start with the team we want to see. Injuries, as always, have taken their toll. Jérôme Boateng is out for the rest of the season. David Alaba remains an uncertainty. Kingsley Coman is a very long shot at best. Arjen Robben, even if passed fit to start, will surely not be able to play through 90 minutes, let alone 120 if it comes to that. Though he may have rolled back the years in the first leg, there is no way we can expect the same sort of sprightly display from the 35 year old Franck Ribéry.

The argument that Robert Lewandowski has been unable to fire in these big games is still a burning issue for many. Some, including our very own esteemed editor, have suggested that Jupp should give Bob some time on the bench in Madrid.

I get that. In the first leg, Lewandowski was only able to finish the match because of the lack of options off the bench – the knock-on effect of the earlier substitutions. Had Sandro Wagner been thrown into the mix late on, he could have put himself in the right spot to finish one of those scrappy opportunities. If just to muddy the waters even more, there has been talk about Lewandowski being unmotivated at training sessions.

Wagner may lack Lewy’s pace, movement and all-round skill, but he can sure as hell finish. He also puts himself into those traditional “number nine” situations that the Pole tends to avoid, creating additional confusion in the box. He is also a massive aerial threat. When did you last see Lewy score with his hip, shin or backside? Oh what we all would have given for a couple of Wagnerian moments in Munich.

As for who starts up front in Madrid, we could even start with both Bob and Sandro. Play a 4-4-2, even a 3-5-2, and throw all caution to the wind. Send in as many teasing crosses and high balls into the box as possible, and wait for Keylor Nervous to flip into full butterfingers mode.

Niemals aufgeben!

The journey to the Bernabéu will be tough. It always has been. Bayern München versus Real Madrid is by far the most visited fixture in the long and rich history of Europe’s biggest club competitition, and history has shown why these matches are such classics. For this very reason, Real always up their game when playing Die Roten. It is as if they have a sixth sense, something that has been woven into the fabric of the many teams to play in that famous all-white kit over the years.

This is what makes Real Bayern’s most dangerous adversary, even when the Spanish side are not at their best. If anything, their perceived weakness makes them even more dangerous. It is fair to say that weaker Bayern teams than the one we have right now, have beaten far stronger Real teams than the one they have right now.

Since the return of Jupp Heynckes last October, this Bayern squad have truly come together as a unit. There is a spirit about the team, a determination that is intricately connected to the coach. If Osram says we can still make it into the final, then we as fans simply have to believe it. We just have to put last week’s debacle behind us, and keep the faith.

With all of the key players rested for this weekend’s Pokalfinale “preview” against Eintracht Frankfurt, the team are as ready as they can be. That a mix of squad players and youngsters were able to demolish a team still in the hunt for a European place is encouraging. (Though not, some may argue, for the Bundesliga – but that is another subject for another ramble).

As we look towards Madrid, I could repeat the exact same words I used last season. Bayern have nothing to lose, and are like cornered tigers. At the very least, we want to see some of that red spirit. To hear La Bestia Negra roar, and spit fire. To finally break the spell of the evil white witch.

Niemals aufgeben! Mia san mia!