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Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid: Superheroes Galore, UEFA Champions League's Marquee Clash Returns

When Cristiano Ronaldo and his ilk travel to Bavaria on Wednesday night and take on an equally starry Bayern, it will be a sight to behold. Men with extraordinary abilities will take to the hallowed turf at the Allianz Arena, looking to outwit each other through skill and muscle. These men will be cheered on by scores of supporters from both sides, and also the neutrals, for whom such a match-up is a rare opportunity to celebrate football at its best without having to worry about the result

Arnab Sen | News18 Sports@arnabsentweet

Updated:April 25, 2018, 8:26 PM IST
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Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid: Superheroes Galore, UEFA Champions League's Marquee Clash Returns
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates take part in a training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League semi-final first-leg football match FC Bayern Munich v Real Madrid in Munich. (AFP)
Ever imagined why Superheroes exist, or rather, why they sell like hot cakes both at the box-office counter as well as at the corner bookstore? Superheroes are the opium that allows people to momentarily forget their frailties. This constant desire to alleviate the suffering caused by ennui by investing in something larger than life leads to a cult following.

While Superheroes might be a figment of someone's fertile imagination, sports persons on the other hand are real beings, often displaying ethereal qualities to provide joy to millions. And when you have a galaxy of such stars battle it out on the greens for supremacy, it is as good as watching an Avengers movie, perhaps even better for some.

So, when Cristiano Ronaldo and his ilk travel to Bavaria on Wednesday night and take on an equally starry Bayern, it will be a sight to behold. Men with extraordinary abilities will take to the hallowed turf at the Allianz Arena, looking to outwit each other through skill and muscle. These men will be cheered on by scores of supporters from both sides, and also the neutrals, for whom such a match-up is a rare opportunity to celebrate football at its best without having to worry about the result.

EUROPE'S BIGGEST RIVALRY

The Germans were the world's best team through most of 70s and 80s. The consistency with which Die Mannschaft performed at big tournaments is a testimony to that assessment. Germany won the FIFA World Cup twice and finished runners-up twice in these two decades. They were also crowned European champions twice and finished second best once in the tournament during the same time period. The fortunes of the national team during this glorious epoch was closely linked to the quality of players produced by the Munich giant.

The 70s was also a golden period for Bayern Munich in Europe as they won a hat-trick of European Cup titles under the leadership of Franz Beckenbauer. Apart from Der Kaiser, as Beckenbauer was fondly called, several other Bayern Munich giants, such as Gerd Muller, Uli Hoeness, Paul Breitner, Sepp Maier and Karl Heinz Rummenigge, went on to achieve glory for both club and country.

Real Madrid on the other hand had already established themselves as a force to reckon with, winning the continental title five times in row in its first five years and adding a sixth in 1965-66.

The two clubs met for the first time in the 1975-76 semi-final where the Germans edged Los Blancos at home after playing out a draw at the Bernabeu in the first leg. There was an encore of the semi-final battle in 1986-87 and this time the Germans thrashed the Spanish giants 4-1 in the first leg to seal the tie in their favour.

The rivalry intensified towards the end of the century as this became a permanent fixture in the UEFA Champions League. Real Madrid, who were witnessing the start of the ambitious 'Galactico' era, got the better of Stefan Effenberg-led Bayern Munich, in the 1999-00 semi-final and the 2001-02 quarters, going on to lift the title on both occasions. Bayern on the other hand exacted revenge by clinching the 2000-01 semi-final.

The rivalry was revived at the beginning of the second decade of the 2000s as Jupp Heynckes' Bayern edged out Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid on penalties in the semi-finals of the 2011-12 tournament, only to lose to Chelsea in the final. Two years later, Real, under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti, produced a master-class as they thumped Pep Guardiola's Bayern 4-0 at the Allianz Arena to make their way into the final. Real would go on to win their tenth European title that year.

Ancelotti took charge of Bayern after finishing his stint at Madrid but couldn't change their fortunes as Cristiano Ronaldo inspired the Spanish giants to another win over the Bavarians, this time in the quarters of the 2016-17 season. This campaign saw Real become the first team to defend its title in the Champions League era. The tie though was marred by controversial refereeing decisions.

With the teams slated to play each other in a two-legged tie again, which will take the total count of matches played between these two teams to a record 26, this is Europe's biggest club rivalry.

A CLASH OF PHILOSOPHIES

The two teams have over the years worked on opposing philosophies. While Bayern Munich has produced homegrown stars, who went on to reach footballing zenith both for club and country, Real Madrid has been known for splurging millions on mega stars. Over the past decade Bayern has managed to maintain a vice like grip on the Bundesliga, Real Madrid on the other has witnessed sporadic domestic success in the face of FC Barcelona's dominance of the La Liga, since the rise of the phenomenon called Lionel Messi.

The Los Blancos though have been the team to beat in UEFA Champions League and have seen a steady rise in the number of homegrown players with the likes of Isco, Asensio, Vasquez and Carvajal taking centre stage. The Germans on the other have relied on a battery of foreign stars like Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery, Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez for their success.

TACTICAL WAR

Zidane had the technical upper hand over his counterpart in last season's quarter-final. His strategy to let Robben and Ribery run free on the flanks and clog the middle to cut the supply to Lewandowski worked wonders for the Spaniards. There was enough room for the likes of Kroos and Modric to exploit in the mid-field and this meant Real controlled the tie over the two legs.

Heynckes though will be a tougher adversary. He took over Bayern Munich when they were five points adrift of Dortmund at the top of the league and inspired them to win the title with five games still to play. Heynckes has a proven track record having guided both Real and Bayern to the Champions League title earlier. Under the German veteran, the duo of Vidal and James Rodriguez have come to the fore and been the nervecentre of this team. While Vidal will be missing the first leg, James could be counted upon to pull the strings in the middle.

For Real a lot will depend on which Cristiano Ronaldo turns up at Munich. It will be interesting though to see whether Zidane adopts a wait and watch policy in the first leg by going for a more defensive game plan or uses the raw pace of the duo of Asensio and Vasquez to hustle the Germans.

It's a match though that will be decided on who controls the mid-field. Both teams have effective wingers but it is the team that dominates and creates spaces in the middle of the park that could have the final say in this titanic battle.

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| Edited by: Madhav Agarwal
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