Bayern Munich need to guard against complacency and other talking points

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Bayern Munich are in pole position to advance from their quarter-final tie.

Bayern Munich hold a 2-1 lead heading into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie against Sevilla after their away win last Tuesday.

Although they don’t have three-goal leads like LiverpoolReal Madrid, and Barcelona do in the other quarter-finals, it would seem they also have one foot in the semi-finals already, especially as they come into this match having just sealed the Bundesliga title.

However, Sevilla have shown that they are capable of pulling off an upset, having dispatched Manchester United in the previous round. They will be a motivated side and Bayern cannot afford to take them lightly.

BAYERN NEED TO GUARD AGAINST COMPLACENCY

The worry with Bayern Munich in recent seasons has always been complacency – cantering to the Bundesliga title isn’t the best way to keep up intensity for a crunch Champions League clash.

They know not to take Sevilla for granted; the first leg should have shown them that much, as more clinical finishing in front of goal could have seen the La Liga side take a bigger lead before Bayern began their comeback. If that isn’t enough, there’s always the fact that Sevilla have already gotten the exact result they need on Wednesday in the previous round – a 2-1 away win, a repeat of their second-leg result against United, will send this tie to extra time.

SEVILLA’S LAST STAND

The season has gotten away from Sevilla. From looking like they would compete for a top-four finish, they’re now in danger of finishing outside of the European places entirely. They still have a Copa del Rey final to come later in the season – with the spot in the Europa League that comes with it – but for now, a promising season is looking like a lost season.

Wednesday’s game is effectively the biggest game remaining barring the cup final, with a spot in the Champions League semi-finals on the line. Their big-game record domestically this season is cause for concern – but there is that win over United to draw inspiration from.

JAMES LOOKING TO MAKE A POINT?

James Rodriguez has excelled in the Bundesliga this season, tallying six goals and 10 assists in his 19 league appearances. He has yet to bring that form into Europe, where he has only one assist in nine appearances.

That’s partly down to Jupp Heynckes’ selection, as James isn’t a guaranteed starter in the Champions League. He didn’t start the first leg of this tie, nor the second leg of the last one, and it could be that Heynckes has the same perception of James which has dogged him throughout his career: a wonderfully talented footballer who at times is a luxury his team can’t afford.

If he starts on Wednesday, James will have a point to prove.

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Zinedine Zidane still doesn't know Real Madrid's best front six but has chance to experiment

Andy West 10/04/2018
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Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane

If there’s one thing we know following Real Madrid’s weekend derby draw against Atletico, it’s that we don’t know much about the identity of Zinedine Zidane’s strongest front six.

We do know one thing, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliantly taken goal serving another reminder, as if one was needed, that his is the first name on the teamsheet.

Other than that, every place still appears to be up for grabs as Sunday’s game provided a microcosm of Madrid’s whole season by seeing Zidane run through a dazzling range of attacking options without finding any that worked particularly well.

A narrow 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond; a flat 4-4-2 with wingers; 4-3-3; 4-5-1…we’ve seen them all this season, all accompanied by changing personnel, but still it appears that Zidane doesn’t know which is his preferred set-up.

Sunday was a fine example. He started off with Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio on the wings, with Toni Kroos and Mateo Kovacic in the middle and Ronaldo joined by Gareth Bale up front. By the end, Ronaldo, Asensio and Kovacic had been taken off, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Isco brought on, and the only potential member of Madrid’s potential front six not to see any playing time was Casemiro.

Other than Ronaldo, who always looked capable of scoring, none of the nine players involved did their cause much good.

Kroos coolly sprayed passes but was occasionally bypassed defensively, Asensio flattered to deceive, Bale delivered some good crosses but did little else, Vazquez ran around a lot but lacked end product, Benzema hardly had a touch and Isco floated across the turf looking pretty without providing much substance.

Wednesday’s Champions League quarter final second leg will give Zidane yet another chance to assess his options, with the 3-0 lead his team holds from the first leg allowing the coach to rest, rotate and experiment.

Maybe he’ll hit upon an answer, but maybe it doesn’t really matter whether he does or not because Madrid’s season, and perhaps even Zidane’s entire managerial regime, has been reduced to three games: the two legs of the Champions League semi-final and the Final.

Nothing else really matters. And in that scenario, the usual vital concerns about long-term planning, coherent playing strategies and collective philosophies become irrelevant.

Right now, what matters far more than whether Zidane is instilling a convincing sustainable structure is whether or not his team can win three games – or even just avoid losing them and come out on top in a couple of penalty shoot-outs.

To achieve that, boasting a clear long-term plan could prove to be less advantageous than having various options up your sleeve – the ability to adapt to circumstances and find a solution to whatever challenges might be presented.

Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in training for the second leg

Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in training for the second leg

And Zidane certainly has plenty of possibilities. If the game demands width, he can go with Vazquez, Bale or Asensio. Need some power in the box? It’s time for Bale. A bit more subtlety and creativity? Isco’s your man. More energy in midfield? Kovacic gets the call. The ability to link play and ghost into the box? Benzema has a time to shine.

Zidane is blessed with such a deep squad, he really can do whatever he wants – in contrast to Barcelona, whose match-winning options are basically Lionel Messi and Lionel Messi.

Importantly, it has always been clear that Zidane trusts all his players to deliver. Someone might be out of favour for now, but that player won’t necessarily be confined to the bench forever, and he could end up being the match-winner in the Champions League Final.

And if that means a consistent team shape is sacrificed, will anyone really care?

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Juventus ready to exploit Real Madrid's fragility and back problems

Alex Rea 10/04/2018
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Raphael Varane and Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid have one firm step in the Champions League semi-finals but Juventus travel to the Bernabeu on Wednesday bidding to drag them right back out.

Los Blancos hold a 3-0 advantage after their stunning blitz in Turin last week, hallmarked of course by Cristiano Ronaldo producing one of the great European goals with a superhuman overhead kick.

Juve did bounce back from their midweek disappointment with a 4-2 hammering of Benevento while Real were held to a 1-1 draw with city rivals Atletico on Sunday.

Madrid are heavy favourites to progress but the narrative has shifted slightly after the weekend’s games and so with that in mind, we examine the key talking points.

JUVE GOT NOTHING TO LOSE

Pavel Nedved in action during the win over Madrid in 2003

Pavel Nedved in action during the win over Madrid in 2003

Juventus have history for losing first-leg ties against Real Madrid and coming back with a vengeance to win 4-3 on aggregate. In 2003, the Italian giants were beaten 2-1 in Madrid but gained passage through to a first all-Italian Champions League final with AC Milan following a 3-1 victory in Turin.

Thrust that night by Pavel Nedved’s dynamism and the Italian art of organisation, this current iteration is a far cry from the side of 15 years ago, though.

And the modern history between the two sides is far more in favour of Madrid with the Bianconeri conjuring good and symbolic memories for Los Blancos with last year’s Cardiff capitulation securing them a first league and European Cup double for 59 years.

Still, Max Allegri’s side have nothing to lose and that is a dangerous prospect for any team, let alone a Madrid with known fragility.

They have struggled to defend commanding leads in the past (Borussia Dortmund 2013/14 and Schalke 2014/15) and the Old Lady has shown mettle already this season to eliminate Tottenham.

An early goal for the visitors could really crack Madrid’s fortitude.

ZIDANE HAS BACK PROBLEMS

Sergio Ramos is booked in the first-leg

Sergio Ramos is booked in the first-leg

There is an obvious weakness for Juve to exploit and that is at centre-back. It’s been a recurring theme throughout the season but once again Real’s lack of depth in the position has left Zidane with just one available central defender.

Sergio Ramos picked up a yellow card suspension after being booked in the first-leg and his natural replacement Nacho has been ruled out with a thigh injury.

It was hoped Raphael Varane could be rested on Sunday but the Frenchman was forced to play the entire 90 minutes after Jesus Vallejo pulled out of the squad.

And the 21-year-old is a huge doubt for Wednesday’s clash after training alone on Monday, which could mean Casemiro or Marcos Llorente are forced to retreat from their natural DM role to partner Varane.

The former has played at centre-back alongside Ramos in the past but his reckless tendencies in recent weeks hardly inspires confidence.

MADRID HAVE LOST MOMENTUM

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

With the surrender of their La Liga crown to Barcelona, Zidane beckoned his side to win every game up to and including the Champions League final in Kiev, but a run of six straight victories came to an end on Sunday.

The context is important to consider because while a draw against a resilient side like Atletico is hardly the most disappointing outcome, there has been a concerning delicacy to Madrid this season.

Granted, Zidane had one eye on Wednesday with neither Casemiro or Luka Modric in the starting XI while a seemingly pre-arranged move saw Cristiano Ronaldo withdrawn on the hour.

But they looked one-dimensional against Atletico, attacking exclusively from wide positions and short of ideas.

They were indebted, and not for the first time this term, to outstanding stops from Keylor Navas in avoiding defeat and the vulnerability both at the back and in attack should energise Juventus.

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