The world’s most expensive attackers are fit to start in the semi-final second leg, but should Ancelotti risk fielding them both or adopt a more cautious approach?
By Peter McVitie
“I feel good, I’m hoping to play and looking forward to it,” Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale told the press ahead of his side’s crucial semi-final second-leg against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
The news that the club’s €100 million summer signing is raring to go will be a huge boost to coach Carlo Ancelotti as he looks to maintain the 1-0 lead his side picked up in the Santiago Bernabeu last week. However, it also presents him with a delicate dilemma as he ponders which permutation of the fabled BBC (Bale-Benzema-Cristiano) triumvirate to field against the German champions.
The Italian coach has been without either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale for his side’s two most recent crunch ties and the team have had excellent results each time.
Injury ensured the former Manchester United star could only watch from the stands as the new record-signing galloped towards Jose Pinto’s goal to fire in the winner against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Subsequently, the Welshman was left out of the starting XI in last week’s first leg, only replacing the Portuguese talisman with 17 minutes left as they protected their one-goal lead.
Madrid could afford to lose one of their star men for each of those matches as their counterattacking potency saw them through, but the second leg in the Allianz Arena is a special case. With both Ronaldo and Bale available, Ancelotti’s decision whether to start one or both of them will dictate the style and mentality of his team in this match.
Sticking with his first-leg formation of a 4-4-2 and leaving Bale out will provide them with greater defensive stability as they look to defend their lead against a side which will dominate possession and push forward for the 90 minutes. That Bayern were so toothless and impotent when it came to the final ball in the Bernabeu will instil more confidence in Ancelotti that his side can keep the hosts at arm’s length and perhaps hit them on the break, with Ronaldo and Benzema hoping to snatch an away goal which could kill the tie off.
However, the former AC Milan boss will be aware that keeping Guardiola’s charges at bay for 90 minutes in Madrid is one thing, but to do it on their home turf is a much more monumental task.
The 54-year-old suggested in his press conference that he isn’t entirely happy to allow the reigning European champions to boss the game and seems hopeful of taking a more proactive approach.
“We started too timidly in the first leg,” he told reporters. “If we do the same tomorrow it will be very dangerous. We need to start stronger.
“It’s possible to advance even if we don’t score, but our intention is to do so. We have scored a lot in the Champions League and in La Liga and my intention is that we do so again in this one. In the majority of games we try to attack.”
Ancelotti would be right to adopt a more aggressive style to keep their fate in their own hands. After a 3-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in their quarter-final first leg, Madrid allowed the Germans to attack throughout the return fixture, and if it wasn’t for BVB’s sloppiness up front and some fine work from Iker Casillas they could have been eliminated from the competition altogether. Ancelotti simply cannot bank on the Bundesliga champions being so wasteful in front of goal for a second match in a row, and certainly not following their 5-2 win over Werder Bremen at the weekend.
With a front three in the shape of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo available, he would be mad not to look to utilise them against a Bayern side which has proven to be defensively weak in recent games, having conceded nine goals in their last five league matches.
If anyone can exploit that apparent weakness, it’s the BBC. Between them, the trio have scored 61 out of Madrid’s 98 La Liga goals, but they are even more productive in the Champions League, having scored an incredible 24 out of 35, with 11 assists between them. Of course, Ronaldo’s magnificent tally of 14 inflates that figure, but with Bale and Benzema on five each, Madrid have three players in the top 10 of the goalscorers chart.
Fielding all three will take away from the defensive strength of Madrid, while Bale and Ronaldo will be required to drop much deeper than they are used to, but the attacking potency will allow them to stretch and test the likes of Rafinha, Dante, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba.
As Real Madrid inch ever closer to the Decima they have to be brave and that means sticking with the €100m signing as well as the €94m one.
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