Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Tuesday April 18, 19:45
Live on BT Sport
No team has ever retained the Champions League trophy, but Real Madrid showed last week that they are capable of doing just that. They took on Bayern in their own backyard, and despite a difficult first half that could've seen them trail 2-0 (Arturo Vidal missed a penalty just before the break), they came roaring back in the second period. When they click, Real are as dangerous a counter-attacking team as I can think of, and Cristiano Ronaldo's brace brought him to a century of European club goals.
Real's 2-1 win has put them in control of this tie, and they have won their last ten home matches in the Champions League. They haven't lost at the Bernabeu in this competition for more than two years - Schalke beat them 4-3 in a thriller in the Spanish capital, but Real progressed anyway.
Coach Zinedine Zidane wisely shuffled his pack at the weekend, resting a host of stars for the La Liga game at Sporting Gijon. Without Ronaldo, Bale, Kroos and Modric, Real won 3-2, as the likes of Isco and Alvaro Morata put their hands up for future selection. Gareth Bale, Raphael Varane and Pepe are expected to miss the second leg, but Real have the depth to cope.
Spanish media say that Zidane will be kept on as coach for next season, regardless of what now happens in the Champions League and La Liga. Although it's hard to believe that a trophyless season wouldn't cost the Frenchman his job, the reports are indicative of the confidence currently flooding through the club.
It's amazing how quickly perceptions can change in football. Bayern were simply stunning in Der Klassiker against Borussia Dortmund, brutally exposing their opponents' flaws in a 4-1 win. However, the 2-1 home defeat to Real Madrid that followed raised some awkward questions about the German champions under Carlo Ancelotti.
Firstly, why did Bayern lose the plot completely when Javi Martinez was sent off? Instead of playing conservatively with ten men, the Bavarians went hell for leather looking for a second goal against a side that is excellent at counter-punching. Had it not been for a typically strong goalkeeping performance from Manuel Neuer, this tie could already be over.
Secondly, Bayern's over-reliance on Robert Lewandowski was there for all to see. The Polish striker's exemplary injury record means it would be difficult for Bayern to keep a top-class replacement happy throughout the season, but Thomas Mueller is nowhere near as effective as a centre-forward as he is as a roaming threat across the attacking line. Bayern were always going to miss a striker who has banged in 46 goals for club and country this term.
Finally, what happened to the Champions League specialist coach? Ancelotti was at least partially brought in for this kind of test against the elite of world football, but he seemed powerless to prevent Real from taking control of the second half.
Lewandowski will be back from his shoulder injury on Tuesday in Spain, but Ancelotti has more injury problems. Martinez is suspended, while Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are racing against time to be fit. The loss of Bayern's three elite centre-backs would be disastrous, and may necessitate a change of system, or the use of players like David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich at centre-back.
Bayern are still a very strong side with some excellent players, but given Real's impeccable home record in the Champions League, and their firepower in attack, I can't see the La Liga leaders failing here.
Bayern's away record under Ancelotti is patchy at best, and when I look back through the season, I'm struggling to think of too many dominant away displays by FCB. They lost at Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim in the league, and at Rostov in the Champions League, and they have rarely hit top gear on the road.
Real seem pretty big to me to win in 90 minutes at [2.46], but Bayern deserve a bit of respect, so we can take a more conservative route and back the hosts Draw No Bet at [1.83]. If Real win, we win, and our stake is returned if the second leg finishes level.
The market clearly expects a shootout, with Over 2.5 Goals trading at a skinny [1.47], and I can understand that. Bayern have big personnel problems in defence, and Real have scored at least twice in seven of their last eight Champions League home matches.
Although I've been impressed by Juventus so far in this competition, I still believe that Real Madrid are the best team in the tournament, and have the talent and squad depth to go all the way and make history. I know it's not particularly groundbreaking to advise backing the favourites at [3.3], but I do think they'll win the trophy.