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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 31 August, 2014

5 talking points ahead of tonight’s Real Madrid-Bayern Munich Champions League semi-final

Can Gareth Bale repeat Copa del Rey heroics and other questions ahead of this evening’s clash.

Gareth Bale is a doubt for tonight's match after picking up the flu recently.
Gareth Bale is a doubt for tonight's match after picking up the flu recently.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 10.34

1. Can Gareth Bale repeat Copa del Rey heroics?

SHOULD RONALDO NOT feature, then Gareth Bale may play in what many consider to be his best position — on the left-side of the attack.

Encouragingly, Bale coped admirably with the pressure of being Madrid’s main man in their recent Copa del Rey final with Barcelona, scoring a much-discussed match-winning wondergoal in the process.

Some critics have thus suggested that with the aforementioned goal, the 24-year-old truly arrived on the La Liga scene, but teammate Xabi Alonso insists he has been playing well consistently since joining the Spanish side.

“Even before he scored that goal, Gareth has always been very valued by all of us,” he told reporters. “He’s had to adapt to a new country, a new league and a new team, he’s playing at a very high level and he showed that last week. We are very happy with him and everything he is doing for the team.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh international is reported to be suffering with flu, though he is expected to recover in time to play.

2. Will Bayern Munich put their end-of-season slump fully behind them?

Bayern Munich have been poor by their standards in recent times. Having secured the league title in Germany, there is a sense that they’ve taken their foot off the pedal to a degree.

The Germans’ 53-game unbeaten league run finally ended at the beginning of April, as they suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Augsburg. More disconcertingly, they followed that up in the league with another defeat — this time, going down 3-0 at home to arch-rivals Dortmund.

Furthermore, Guardiola even admitted that his team’s performance levels have declined in recent times, telling reporters: “In 27 games we conceded 13 goals and then seven in our next three matches after that so our focus dropped a bit because we had already won the league.”

Nevertheless, they have since recovered, beating Kaiserslautern 5-1 in the German Cup semi-final, while overcoming Eintracht Braunschweig 2-0 in the league.

However, they are likely to face one of their sternest tests tonight and so, a bad result would inevitably lead to further suggestions that they peaked prematurely, causing their season to run out of steam early.

3. Will Cristiano Ronaldo play?

Spain Soccer Copa del Rey

Source: Manu Fernandez

(Cristiano Ronaldo has been forced to watch matches from the sidelines recently owing to injury)

Doubts persist over the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo, as Real Madrid prepare to take on Bayern Munich tonight.

The player missed their recent Copa del Rey final win against Barcelona with a view to being fully fit for this game, however Carlo Ancelotti insists they won’t unnecessarily risk their star man.

“If everyone is is certain he can play without any problems at all, then of course he will play. I am confident he will play, but we’re going to make the decision [later],” Ancelotti told AFP.

Moreover, if the ex-Manchester United winger does play, he will have the chance to break the all-time Champions League goal-scoring record, which he currently shares with Lionel Messi.

4. Are Bayern’s somewhat unconvincing defence going to be able to cope with Madrid’s formidable attack?

With the talent of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at their disposal, it is no surprise that Madrid are the highest goalscorers in this year’s Champions League.

The lethal attacking trio have helped them manage an impressive overall tally of 32 goals, and they will be hopeful of adding to this figure this evening.

As admirable as Bayern Munich are to watch in full flow, they are not without weaknesses, despite their near-perfect form over the past two seasons perhaps suggesting otherwise.

There remain serious question marks over their defence — against both Arsenal and United for instance, Guardiola’s men consistently dominated possession and territory, yet their conspicuous flaws at the back always gave their opponents an outside chance of victory, and their rivals successfully managed to take full advantage of these thinly-veiled failings as a result occasionally.

Tonight, the likely back four of Lahm, Dante, Boateng and Alaba arguably face their biggest test of the season. It remains to be seen whether they can alleviate these doubts with the type of assured display they have failed to regularly produce, from a defensive perspective, in previous rounds.

5.  Can Madrid avenge past defeats?

The past two consecutive seasons have seen Madrid knocked out of the Champions League by German opposition.

The Spanish team were beaten 4-3 on aggregate by Dortmund last year (whom they subsequently beat in the quarter-finals of this year’s competition), in addition to being defeated on penalties by Bayern Munich at this stage two years ago.

Indeed, Madrid have a poor record in general against their opponents at this stage — losing four European Cup semi-finals in total against them (1976, 1987, 2001 and 2012) and winning just one (2000).

Madrid also slipped up the last time they met a Pep Guardiola-managed side in the final four of this competition, as they were knocked out by Barcelona in 2011, hence they have now lost three consecutive Champions League semis. And to make matters even more foreboding for the hosts tonight, in six trips to the Bernabeu Stadium, Guardiola has still yet to taste defeat.

Hence, this history and the psychological boost it could conceivably provide may well be a significant factor over the course of the tie.

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