Zinedine Zidane summed up everyone’s thoughts when he described his Real Madrid team’s Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich as “the master against the apprentice.”
As soon as the draw was made, the prospect of Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti returning to face the club where he won the title in 2014, and which sacked him 12 months later, became the most keenly anticipated aspect of the draw.
And it will certainly be fascinating to see Zidane confront the man who was once his colleague, not just on the Bernabeu bench but also in Italy, where Ancelotti oversaw his last couple of seasons with Juventus. Their personal relationship is warm and long-standing, and considering the closeness of their mutual understanding it’s unlikely that either man will spring any surprises upon the other.
Having said that, springing surprises is not something that either man is particularly worried about, because they are not the kind of coaches who worry too much about dreaming up daring new playing systems. Rather than being tactical geniuses, both prefer to keep things simple and rely upon the old-fashioned, and unfashionable, idea that good players can play well together however they might happen to be lined up.
True, both Ancelotti and Zidane flitted between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations during their time in charge of Madrid, with the latter even occasionally following the current trend for a three-man defensive line.
But these two coaches are more Alex Ferguson than Pep Guardiola: never mind about false nines and sweeper-keepers and inverted wingers…just get your best players together, keep them happy and motivated, give them responsibility and watch them play well.
So it’s hardly the case that we will witness Ancelotti and Zidane attempt to outsmart each other with cunning tactical nuances, but they do certainly have a role to play in keeping their respective teams focussed and organised, and their ability to exude an air of unruffled confidence will be tested to the maximum.
Ancelotti, in particular, will face the intense glare of the international press as he is bombarded with questions over his desire to inflict revenge over Los Blancos president Florentino Perez.
In reality, the Italian is far too sensible, and far too nice, to reduce the tie to the petty level of an individual vendetta, and he will be less concerned with settling personal scores than he is with the exact opposite: not allowing his players to be sidelined by peripheral irrelevancies. The same is true, surely, for the two players who will be facing their former teams: Madrid playmaker Toni Kroos and his Bayern counterpart Xabi Alonso.
The tie is particularly poignant for Alonso, who has already announced that he will retire at the end of the season and therefore has one last chance to add to his two Champions League winners medals, gained with Liverpool in 2005 and Madrid in 2014.
In his heart, Alonso will feel he has only won the trophy once, because he was suspended for the 2014 final after being booked in the semi-final second leg against, ironically, Bayern.
So Alonso will be desperate to play well, but then so too will everybody else. And ultimately, this tie isn’t about Ancelotti versus Zidane or Alonso versus Kroos.
It’s about Bayern Munich versus Real Madrid, and football doesn’t get much better than that.