World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to make his comeback from injury for Real Madrid when Bayern Munich visit the Santiago Bernabeu for their Champions League semi-final, first leg today.
Ronaldo has been sidelined for the past three weeks due to a hamstring injury and will be desperate to make up for lost time by building on his record-equaling 14 goals in the competition this season.
Real are set to be at full strength as left-back Marcelo has also overcome a hamstring problem. Gareth Bale missed training on Monday due to flu-like symptoms, but the Welshman is expected to take his place alongside Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in attack.
Los Blancos will need Ronaldo and Bale firing on all cylinders if they are to overcome their historic hoodoo against Bayern in the last four of Europe’s premier club competition.
In five previous semi-finals, the Germans have come out on top four times, with a 3-2 aggregate victory in 2000 on their way to winning the competition for an eighth time Real’s only success.
However, Madrid’s previously awful record against German opposition has been salvaged this season as they saw off Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund on their way into the last four.
And Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes an away goal is the key to his side reaching the final for a third consecutive season.
“We need to score at least one goal. That’s what we learned from Dortmund’s meetings with Real Madrid,” he said. “We’re known as the la bestia negra [black beast] down there. We need to show them la bestia negra is back.”
By their own lofty standards, Bayern have struggled to maintain their focus after sealing the Bundesliga title in record time a month ago.
Saturday’s 2-0 win over bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig was their first in four league games, a run which included two consecutive defeats after a 53-match unbeaten streak.
Bayern boss Pep Guardiola enjoyed an impeccable record of five wins and a draw in six visits to the Santiago Bernabeu in four years in charge of Barcelona.
However, the Spaniard has accepted responsibility for his side slacking off in recent weeks and will be hoping meeting the nine-time European champions brings out the best in them, having previously described playing in Europe as “like a good meal in a nice restaurant” compared to the “everyday pizza or hamburgers” of the Bundesliga.
And captain Philipp Lahm admitted the European champions need to be at the very top of their game when they visit the Spanish capital, where they triumphed on penalties in the semi-finals two years ago.
“On Wednesday [today] we’ll show we’re always up for it in the important games, but it’s still 50-50,” Lahm said.
“I am sure that everyone will put in a top performance on Wednesday because if they don’t we have no chance,” he added.
Other than the absence of former Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara, Bayern should also be at full strength with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and David Alaba returning to the side after missing Saturday’s win at Braunschweig due to injury and illness respectively.