Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
Wednesday 19:45, BT Sport 1.
Match Odds: Bayern Munich 2.021/1, Real Madrid 3.9, The Draw 4.03/1.
Can Real complete the hattrick?
Having become the first side to retain the European Cup during the Champions League era, Real Madrid are now going for an incredible hattrick. Zinedine Zidane's side haven't been overwhelmingly impressive in La Liga this season, but they've tended to save their best performances for Europe in recent years.
They're up against a curious Bayern Munich side. It's difficult to work out precisely how good Bayern are - earlier in the season they were so out of shape that they sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti, with Jupp Heynckes returning for yet another spell and overseeing a marked improvement. But amongst little competition in the Bundesliga, they haven't truly been tested yet, and even their quarter-final victory over Sevilla, probably the weakest side in the competition at that stage, gives relatively few clues.
Lewandowski to lead the line
Bayern are likely to set out in 4-3-3 system. Robert Lewandowski will lead the line with Franck Ribery playing wide-left and Thomas Muller drifting into the penalty box from the opposite flank. Muller, so often the scorer of big goals at crucial moments, must be watched carefully by Real left-back Marcelo, who was poor in the previous round against Juventus.
In midfield, there's a Spanish flavour to Bayern's possession play. Javi Martinez sits deep, protects the defence and offers good balls into attack, while Thiago Alcantara plays an energetic role, carrying the ball forward expertly. But Bayern's key player is surely James Rodriguez, up against his former side, and determined to show what he's capable of when allowed to play as the most advanced midfielder in a trio.
Defensively, Bayern have a fine record at home but remain without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Sven Ulreich has performed competently, but Neuer remains a huge loss. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng have a good relationship at centre-back, with Boateng's speed likely to be useful against Cristiano Ronaldo. David Alaba may get time on the ball to start good passing moves from left-back while Joshua Kimmich will overlap to provide the width when Muller drifts into the box.
Isco in, Bale out
Zidane is likely to continue with the diamond midfield that has worked well in Champions League competition, which means no Gareth Bale. Instead, Ronaldo will start upfront alongside Karim Benzema, with Isco playing in the hole. He'll drop very deep alongside Real's other three midfielders to assure Real of possession dominance in the centre of the pitch, although this can leave the Spanish side as something of a 'broken' side, with nothing to connect midfield and attack.
Real should dominate possession here, though. Toni Kroos will look to boss the game against his former side and Luka Modric will shuttle forward to the right. Casemiro will presumably focus upon stopping James, although his possession play has improved over the last year or so.
Real have plenty of speed at the back, with Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane both extremely quick. But they might be more tested through aerial attacks, and Sergio Ramos must have a good game against Lewandowski, while also watching the runs of Muller.
I think this could be a slow-burning game, with both concentrating upon holding onto possession in deep areas to put themselves in control of the tie. Real might look for opportunities on the break, particularly when Kimmich pushes forward and Ronaldo drifts into the space behind him. I fancy Real over two legs, and I think Bayern hovering around at evens seems a little short. I'll lay Bayern at 2.01/1.