Javi Martinez and Isco clash key to outcome of first leg between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid

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Isco

Wednesday’s mouthwatering Champions League first leg semi-final clash between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid is set to enthrall the footballing world.

With the Allianz Arena hosting the opener, it is very much a meeting of two of European football’s biggest heavyweights with five-time winners Bayern relishing the prospect of taking on the back-to-back champions and overall record holders.

Both sides are quality-laden all over the pitch and with that in mind, we look at how each team’s key stars compare.

TOP MARKSMEN

Robert Lewandowski v Cristiano Ronaldo

Words, indeed, don’t do justice to the Real Madrid legend’s form and record in this season’s competition. How Bayern go about stopping Ronaldo is anyone’s guess given he has netted 15 goals in 10 Champions League outings. No other player has scored more than eight in the competition.

The 33-year-old, who is the all-time Champions League goalscorer with 120 strikes, will no doubt be relishing the prospect of adding to the two goals he scored at the same stadium in last year’s quarter-finals.

Few players deserve to be mentioned in the same breath of such greatness but Bayern’s talismanic Pole – himself a man who has continually been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu – is as close as the hosts are going to get. Five goals in nine Champions League matches this term is a pretty good return for the 29-year-old and he will need to be at his clinical best, combining his first-time finishing and slick movement, to earn more comparisons with Ronaldo.

The Portuguese is obviously the man in which most eyes will be transfixed on but a goalscorer like Lewandowski has a chance to put himself in the shop window again and remind Los Blancos just why he is being billed as Karim Benzema’s replacement and a man to lessen the workload on Ronaldo should Florentino Perez open his cheque book significantly in the summer.

THE BATTLE IN THE MIDDLE

Javi Martinez v Isco

Whenever there’s a discussion about the world’s best defensive midfield players, the Bayern enforcer should be more or less topping that list. The strange thing though is that the 29-year-old Spaniard can often be forgotten about. Despite being versatile, he goes about his business with little fuss and escapes deserved plaudits. Either way, Martinez is one of the most effective men around in his position and a giant structure in the spine of Jupp Heynckes’ side. The former Athletic Bilbao star felt knee pain on his left-side during the weekend win over Hannover but that should not prevent him from being deployed as the shield and solid buffer to try and shut-out Real on Wednesday.

He will indeed relish a likely one-on-one combat with Isco, who has produced inconsistent displays in 2018 despite his world-class ability. The 26-year-old is lagging well behind in the European assists charts with just two creations to his name but a welcome man-of-the-match showing in Madrid’s last away match at Malaga, in which he netted his seventh goal of the campaign and laid one on for Casemiro, is a welcome boost for a player who seems to need a pick me up every now and again.

2010 World Cup winner Martinez, who has still to convince current La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui that he is worthy of a first international recall since 2016 ahead of this summer’s tournament in Russia, will seek to command a physical edge over Isco and the stats show the Bayern man makes more tackles, clearances and interceptions than his compatriot.

The key for the Spaniard will be preventing Real’s orchestrator from having the time to make key passes and threading the ball through the eye of the needle, with his Champions League pass completion of 91.8 per cent being remarkably higher than Madrid’s overall team collective of 89 per cent – the highest out of all clubs.

If Isco makes Real tick and finds pockets of space centrally and Martinez doesn’t shackle his influence, then it could be advantage to the reigning champions, certainly in this department.

THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE

Mats Hummels v Sergio Ramos

Real missed their 32-year-old captain marvel dearly through suspension as Zinedine Zidane’s men went down to an almost fatal 3-1 defeat at home to Juventus. Fortunately for the Whites, Real played their get out of jail free card to good effect and luck was also on the Spanish giants’ side when another (potential) Ramos suspension was waved away from this match, with the centre-back being cleared of illegally watching on from the tunnel area as Cristiano Ronaldo dispatched the crucial quarter-final penalty. He was meant to spend the duration of the game in the stands but that can all be forgotten now as Ramos will take his place alongside the improved Raphael Varane.

Whilst Ramos will be charged with reducing Lewandowski’s impact on proceedings, the Spaniard is indirectly up against a formidable opponent. Hummels, in his second season at the Allianz Arena club, has grown into a towering presence at centre-back. Having forged a rock solid combination with Jerome Boateng, the 29-year-old’s cool head and sheer love of defending put him on a par with Ramos – without taking into account he carries less of a goal threat. He does though have a far better disciplinary record.

Away goal leads, and sizeable ones at that, may have gone out the window in the last round but defence can sometimes be the best form of attack too. Both Hummels and Ramos will be tasked with the challenge of keeping the back door shut but history certainly favours the visiting star, who performed well during last season’s win in Munich in the last eight while his centre-back counterpart actually missed that match.

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