Bayern Munich is playing a dangerous game. Football is often all about momentum and since winning the Bundesliga in late March, Pep Guardiola's side has been desperately disappointing.
Saturday's labored 2-0 win at bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig was more of the same. Two goals in the last 15 minutes from Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic gave Bayern what was a comfortable cushion in the end. In truth, however, the scoreline flattered the champions and a similar showing on Wednesday will likely leave their Champions League hopes hanging in the balance.
Guardiola has never lost at the Santiago Bernabeu as coach and will prepare with precision and attention to detail for Wednesday's match, but Real Madrid approaches the European clash on a high after claiming the Copa del Rey this week. Bayern, by comparison, has recently resembled a pale shadow of the side which swept to a stunning treble under Jupp Heynckes in 2012-13.
After sealing the Bundesliga crown last term, Heynckes' team remained relentless, thrashing Nurnberg 4-0, then hammering Hannover 6-1 in a run of six wins and a draw (at Borussia Dortmund) in its final seven league matches. It also beat in-form Juventus 2-0 away from home to seal a place in the Champions League semifinals with a 4-0 aggregate success.
Pep's side, by contrast, has now played six times since claiming the title and won just two of those. A 3-3 draw at home to Hoffenheim was followed by a 1-1 tie at Old Trafford against a struggling Manchester United side. Defeat (albeit after resting many of his players) then came at Augsburg, before a hard-fought 3-1 win at home to United which had seen Bayern briefly behind, a dreadful defeat at home to Dortmund and then Saturday's disappointing display.
Guardiola no doubt had Wednesday's trip to Madrid on his mind, but the former Barca boss nevertheless picked a strong side and not only did Bayern fail to find its rhythm until late in the game, it also looked vulnerable on the counterattack - something particular concerning ahead of a meeting with players like Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria and, if fit, Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Madrid are always a difficult team," Guardiola said before the game against Braunschweig. "They have just won the Copa and they will be even more sure of themselves."
The Catalan coach also added that in order to play well against Madrid, his side would need to produce a positive performance on Saturday. "We need a good game to prepare us for Madrid," he said.
But he didn't get one and must now find a way to motivate his toiling team for what is probably its greatest challenge so far this term. "We won't arrive at the Bernabeu in our best moment," the 43-year-old admitted afterwards.
Madrid hasn't impressed in all of its big matches this season by any means, but as Guardiola said, the Copa success over Barcelona on Wednesday will give Ancelotti's side renewed confidence. The Spanish side also has a weekend off because its league game at Valladolid has been switched, and the Blancos are hoping to welcome back Ronaldo from injury, too.
In football, form and impetus can count for a lot. Just ask Barcelona. The Catalans were on target for a treble just 10 days ago, but now look likely to end the season without a major trophy after their European exit to Atletico, the Copa defeat to Real and a shock Liga loss to Granada last weekend.
Madrid's momentum makes it even more dangerous ahead of Wednesday's game, while Bayern's fluctuating form is far from the ideal preparation for a big Champions League semifinal. So fans of the Munich side will hope Guardiola can lift their team at the ground where he has masterminded some of his most memorable triumphs as a coach. Over to you then, Pep.
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