Champions League semifinal preview: Stage perfectly set as Madrid hosts Bayern after 2-2 draw in first leg

Ancelotti said Tuesday he will stick to the plan of starting Lunin at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium even though Courtois had an assured performance in the 3-0 win over Cadiz on Saturday.

Published : May 08, 2024 10:21 IST - 4 MINS READ

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Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is not taking any chances in goal for the second leg of the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, keeping Andriy Lunin as the goalkeeper despite Thibaut Courtois’ return from injury last weekend.

Ancelotti said Tuesday he will stick to the plan of starting Lunin at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium even though Courtois had an assured performance in the 3-0 win over Cadiz on Saturday, which allowed Madrid to clinch the Spanish league title.

Courtois did well in his first match since tearing the ACL in his left knee in August, two days before the start of the season. He then also ruptured the meniscus in his right knee in March when he was close to making a comeback.

“Lunin will play tomorrow,” Ancelotti said Tuesday. “Courtois has to take his time to get back to his best. He played against Cadiz after training very well and had an excellent game, showing security and confidence, but he has to get back to his best.”

Lunin has impressed since replacing Courtois. The 25-year-old Ukrainian won the starting position over Kepa Arrizabalaga, the former Chelsea player who is Madrid’s other reserve goalkeeper.

The players of FC Bayern Munich take part in the final training session at the club grounds in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, May 7, 2024.
The players of FC Bayern Munich take part in the final training session at the club grounds in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP
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The players of FC Bayern Munich take part in the final training session at the club grounds in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

But Lunin made a couple of mistakes in the recent “Clasico” against Barcelona, prompting criticism and reigniting the discussion about who should start.

Madrid and Bayern drew 2-2 in the first leg in Munich last week. The Spanish powerhouse, seeking a record-extending 15th European title, is trying to reach its 18th European Cup final, and a ninth in the Champions League era.

Bayern, a six-time European Cup champion, is making its first semifinal appearance since winning the Champions League in 2019-20.

“Real Madrid and Bayern are similar clubs, both have a great tradition and history in the European Cup,” Ancelotti said. “We also respect them because they did very well and better than us in the first leg. Both teams play very well in transitions because we have quality and fast players. They are the two most dangerous teams in Europe in this sense, but if you have the right balance, you can manage the risk well.”

Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel huddled with his players and had a long talk with them on the field of the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

“I felt I needed to say something,” Tuchel said. “We had an extra day to prepare, and we made the most of it. One topic was that we have to enjoy days like today. It’s important to connect with your inner child and realize that we all dreamed of being in games like this as a child. It won’t stop us from giving it our all.”

Tuchel gave Madrid a slight edge ahead of Wednesday’s game because it was playing at home.

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“It’s one of the most difficult stadiums to win in, but not impossible,” he said. “We had a very good first leg, but unfortunately didn’t win. Given that they’re at home, it’s maybe at 51% for Real. They’re obviously one of the biggest clubs in the world. We’re also a big club in Europe. That’s why it’s a great matchup.”

Madrid has won all but one of its 24 previous European knockout matches in which it drew the first leg away from home — the exception coming in a 1990-91 European Cup quarterfinal against Spartak Moscow. 

Bayern, meanwhile, comes to the Spanish capital without a victory in seven away games against Madrid — with six losses and a draw — since a 1-0 win in the 2000-01 Champions League semifinals.

Madrid is unbeaten at the Bernabeu in all competitions this season and has not lost a Champions League game at home since a 3-2 defeat against Chelsea in the 2021-22 quarterfinals. This season, it drew 1-1 with Leipzig in the round of 16, and 3-3 with Manchester City in the quarterfinals.

“It could be another magical night for our fans,” Ancelotti said. “I’m confident because we’re talking about Real Madrid, and because we have this squad, which has done very well this season. I’m confident because the fans will be behind us. We are in a good position.”

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said it is always special to play a decisive match at the Bernabeu.

“This stadium has something special, something historic,” he said. “There’s hardly another stadium in Europe where it’s better to get to play. We’re all excited. You need to keep your head when it’s emotional in a stadium like this and against a team like this. You need to trust yourself. You need to turn external factors into something positive. We’ll try to do that.”

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