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Bayern, Madrid renew European rivalry in semifinal
Question of the Day
The first-leg semifinal at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium marks the 20th time the clubs will meet in the continent’s top competition, and marks Bayern coach Pep Guardiola’s first return to Spain since leaving Barcelona.
The clubs have met in five European Cup semifinals with titleholder Bayern winning four of those, including when it ousted Madrid two seasons ago on penalties.
Here are five things to know ahead of the opening match:
RONALDO, BALE SET: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return against Bayern will be a game-time decision after he completed a full training session on Monday for the first time since hurting his left leg. Ronaldo, tied for the Champions League record of 14 goals in one season, was nursing a sore knee before the muscle injury sidelined him for four games. “If there is any risk of aggravating the injury tomorrow, he won’t play,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday. “The decisive game of this tie is (the return) next Tuesday so we don’t want to risk him.” Gareth Bale, meanwhile, missed Monday’s training due to flu but should be available. His late winner in the 2-1 Copa del Rey final win over Barcelona delivered Madrid its first silverware this season. “He’s good, confident like the rest of the team,” Ancelotti said. “To score a goal like he did against Barcelona in the final, it’s normal that it improves his confidence.”
BAYERN INJURIES: Manuel Neuer should be fit to line up in the Bayern goal after recovering from a calf injury. The Germany goalkeeper missed the German Cup semifinal win over Kaiserslautern and the 2-0 league win at Eintracht Braunschweig on Saturday but returned to running exercises last Thursday. “I feel quite good. I presume I’ll be able to play,” said Neuer, who trained over the weekend, as did injured defenders David Alaba and Diego Contento. Neuer’s deputy, Tom Starke (elbow), and Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara (knee) are out. “Every player is important,” midfielder Javi Martinez said. “Counters will be key, as they are so fast on the counterattack. This is something we will have to be wary of tomorrow.”
IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: Bayern failed to impress in Saturday’s win at bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig, and was warned by Guardiola. “We won’t reach the final if we don’t produce two outstanding performances,” said Guardiola, whose side failed to win in three Bundesliga games after clinching the title. “We won games without playing good but playing stable,” Guardiola said. “After we won the Bundesliga our mentality was a little bit down. I was happy last game because we recovered our spirit as a team despite not playing good. Hopefully tomorrow we can maintain this level.”
TOUGH CHOICES: Ancelotti faces tough choices, as midfielder Isco has been stellar in stepping in for Ronaldo. But the Spain international looks set to be sacrificed with Ronaldo’s return and Angel Di Maria’s continued good form. Ancelotti elected to keep Di Maria over Mesut Ozil last summer, selling the Germany playmaker to Arsenal. “To take out a player if Cristiano returns is not easy since they are all playing fantastically,” Ancelotti said. “Isco has shown in the last games he can be such an important player for us in key moments.” Madrid, which will enjoy a full week off before the match, will also likely be able to count on defender Marcelo returning from injury although Ancelotti suggested Fabio Coentrao will likely start at left back.
‘THE BLACK BEAST’: Dubbed “la bestia negra” or “the black beast” by fearful Madrid fans, Bayern has come to represent a thorn in the side of record nine-time winner Madrid. Bayern, a five-time winner, has won semifinals in 1976, 1987, 2001 and 2012, with Madrid’s sole win coming in 2000. Altogether, Bayern has 11 wins from the sides’ 20 meetings, with Madrid’s seven wins all coming at home. Madrid is unbeaten at home in the Champions League for 17 games dating to 2011, when Guardiola guided Barcelona to a 2-0 victory. Guardiola has never lost as a coach at the Bernabeu. “This statistic is just that. This is a different team, the situation is different,” Guardiola said. Madrid does have a wild card in Ancelotti, who has never lost in six meetings against Bayern including four victories. “They aren’t the ‘bestia negra’ for me,” Ancelotti reminded on Tuesday.
AP Sports Writer Ciaran Fahey contributed to this report.
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