How Bayern rattled Madrid, and what each team can do to reach UCL final

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Bayern Munich and Real Madrid played out a pulsating 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal, going back and forth in a contest befitting its “European Clasico” moniker.

Below, we dive into the main talking points from Tuesday’s clash in Bavaria and look ahead to next week’s decisive second leg, examining the path to victory, and a place in the final, for each team.

Bayern must be ambitious in Madrid

The dynamism of Bayern Munich’s attack was promising. Gaps inside each Real Madrid full-back were quickly infiltrated with smart passes, including when Leroy Sane fired straight at Andriy Lunin in the first minute. Noussair Mazraoui pinched the ball from Jude Bellingham before Harry Kane, buoyed by his side’s bright start, quickly pinged a shot from the center circle that nearly embarrassed Lunin.

After 15 minutes of action, Kane, Sane, and Jamal Musiala had an even share of six shots. Real Madrid didn’t have an attempt on goal until the 24th minute, but because it’s Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout rounds, it went in.

But Bayern were determined to not succumb to Los Blancos’ midweek mystique. Thomas Tuchel believed in his side’s ability to overturn Vinicius Junior’s opener and cause Real Madrid problems. At the break, he switched Musiala and Sane’s flanks so they could be more direct with their runs, moving toward the middle to shoot with their stronger foot, and swapped Leon Goretzka with the livelier Raphael Guerreiro in central midfield.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Bayern took the lead.

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

The energetic Konrad Laimer ran into space and flicked a ball out wide to Sane, who skipped in front of left-back Ferland Mendy before slamming home a ferocious near-post finish. Kane scored Bayern’s second goal from the penalty spot after Musiala’s run inside from the opposite wing drew a challenge from Lucas Vazquez.

The right side of Real Madrid’s defense should be tougher in the second leg; Dani Carvajal will return from suspension and has quietly been one of the more consistent performers in this Champions League season. However, Bayern should be positive in the second leg after unsettling the serial European champions.

While Muller was involved in the buildup that eventually earned Bayern’s penalty, he was largely quiet in the first half and didn’t shoot during his 79-minute appearance. Lining up a trio of Sane, Musiala, and a fully fit Serge Gnabry behind Kane would bring more versatility, unpredictability, and oomph – and, however simple those qualities may be, they’re exactly what put Real Madrid on the back foot at the Allianz Arena.

“Everything we’re fighting for is in this competition. We’ve just got to find a way to get it done,” Kane told TNT Sports. “Real Madrid away is going to be tough, but we’ve got to go there with full belief and go for the win.” – Daniel Rouse

Madrid’s success rests on defense

Real Madrid can always turn nothing into something. “You don’t see it coming when they score,” Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel told reporters last week. But their goals only matter when they don’t concede a bunch along the way.

The foundation of Madrid’s lasting, and often bewildering, success is their defense. Their backline usually buys their attack enough time to score the goals they need to advance. They don’t need to blow out opponents or dominate possession. As Thierry Henry said on CBS, “You can also control the game (by) defending well.”

Whether Madrid advance to the Champions League final rests not only on Vinicius Junior – whose crucial brace ensured the tie remains all square heading into the second leg – but their ability to keep it clean at the back. Carlo Ancelotti’s side can’t afford to hand Bayern any more freebies. It gave away early chances, allowed the Germans to seize control and penetrate the 18-yard box, and encouraged Bayern’s wingers to run in from the flanks and attack their back-pedaling defenders.


Madrid opened their quarterfinal with Manchester City with similarly slack defending but corrected their mistakes in a strong second-leg performance that rendered most of the Premier League champions’ 33 ensuing shots futile. City had less room to exploit in wide areas than they had in the opening match, and Madrid largely kept the ball in front of them, doing less chasing and more marking.

That needs to happen again next week. Neither Musiala nor Sane can have as much time and space to run into the penalty area. Madrid left-back Mendy is a clear weakness – Bayern ran him ragged until he coughed up a chance – and Vazquez is a Band-Aid solution at right-back despite his recent heroics in El Clasico.

The returning Carvajal will certainly help, but there’s little else covering those gaps, and it’s up to Madrid’s midfield and wingers to track back and ensure they don’t appear again. That means more running for Rodrygo and Vinicius, and a much more meaningful performance from Bellingham, who was as ineffective in the first leg as he has been all season. – Anthony Lopopolo

Individual blunders change games

Ancelotti and Tuchel will make a handful of adjustments heading into next week’s second leg, each of which will be key to determining which side makes the final. Can Bayern figure out a way to limit Toni Kroos’ influence? Will Real Madrid sit back again and look to hit on the counter, or can they crank up the pressure at home?

But the simplest path to victory – or, at least, to avoiding defeat – is the most obvious one: Don’t make glaring individual errors. Kim Min-jae did precisely that Tuesday. It’s been a difficult first season in Germany for the South Korean, who arrived for roughly €50 million after a spectacular 2022-23 campaign in which he was comfortably the best defender in Serie A and anchored Napoli’s backline as they ran away with the Scudetto.

He hasn’t always been one of the first-choice central defenders for Tuchel; prior to Tuesday, he had only played a full 90 minutes twice in the last two months. Were it not for an injury to Matthijs de Ligt this past weekend, the Dutchman almost certainly would have started alongside Eric Dier against Madrid, relegating Kim to the bench. Who knows how things would have played out in that case.

Kim’s evening actually got off to a decent start. He was proactive, pushing forward to intercept an early breakout pass and keep Madrid pinned in their own half while Bayern dominated the opening minutes. He showed off his athleticism at various points, too, outrunning Vinicius and effortlessly brushing him aside when the Brazilian looked to spring free down the right wing.

Sebastian Widmann – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

But his mistakes overshadowed his good work.

He was duped by the simplest of runs from Vinicius for the Madrid star’s opening goal, getting sucked in as the rapid forward checked deep to show himself for a pass from Kroos. Sticking too tightly to his man, Kim had absolutely no chance to recover when Vinicius, in a heartbeat, changed direction and darted behind him to race clean through on goal. Kroos put it on a plate, and Madrid took the lead.

He got caught by the same move in the second half, but Neuer bailed him out with a big save. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. The foul Kim committed on Rodrygo for Real Madrid’s penalty was in the same vein, as he was overly aggressive and got rolled by the forward before panicking and hauling him down.

Even the most astute tactical plan can be undone by individual errors. Bayern were the better team Tuesday but couldn’t turn their performance into an aggregate lead going into the second leg in Spain. That’s not all Kim’s fault, of course, and trying to handle Vinicius, especially in space, is one of the hardest tasks in the game today.

The defender may get a chance to redeem himself next week. Football loves a good redemption story. Or, he could get replaced in the starting lineup. Whomever Tuchel calls on at the Bernabeu, they can’t gift Vinicius and Co. golden opportunities. Real Madrid are more than capable of winning this tie, and this tournament, without any extra help. – Gianluca Nesci

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