When he heard the big news of the Champions League quarterfinal draw – that Bayern Munich and Real Madrid would meet in the last eight in a matchup worthy of the June 3 final in Cardiff – Bixente Lizarazu reacted the way most of the clubs’ supporters did.
“I said, ‘Again?’ ” the former Bayern left back recalled. “It’s always Madrid-Bayern. I don’t know what’s going on with the draw, but it’s always Madrid-Bayern.”
The teams have met 22 times previously in Europe’s top club competition, their last encounter coming in a 2014 Champions League semifinal which Real won 5-0 on aggregate en route to its 10th European crown. The powerhouses have won a combined 16 continental titles, with Real’s 11 championships being the most ever in Europe.
The rivalry resumes Wednesday when Real Madrid visits Bayern’s Allianz Arena for the first leg of the teams’ much-anticipated quarterfinal.
“They’re always great games,” Lizarazu said. “It’s the Clasico of the Champions League.”
Lizarazu – who played for Bayern from 1997 to 2006, aside from a sixth-month stint with Marseille in 2004 – acknowledged that both sides possess “big talents” offensively. Certainly, the entertainment value will be sky-high with goal scorers like Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, arguably the best striker on the planet at the moment, and Real’s famed “BBC” – Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Lizarazu, now a brand ambassador for Bayern, believes the quarterfinal will ultimately be decided by how well the teams fare in midfield and their defensive thirds.
“The question is also the defense,” the 47-year-old explained. “Because you must find the good balance between the offense and the defense.
“And then there’s the quality in the middle to get the ball. It will be a big fight in the middle to get the ball. Because both teams like to have the ball. But again you must be the team that makes the (fewer) mistakes in defense because the quality in offense is fantastic for both teams.”
Lizarazu’s former France teammate, Zinedine Zidane, has done a remarkable job as Real Madrid manager. Four months after taking over for Rafa Benitez in January 2016, Zidane guided Real to European title No. 11, and he has Los Blancos looking to make history as the Champions League era’s first-ever repeat winner.
But Zidane’s former boss at Real could very well ruin those plans. First-year Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti, who mentored Zidane while the player transitioned to coaching in Madrid, endured his own adjustment period in Munich before getting the Bavarians back on track for a fifth consecutive Bundesliga crown.
Lizarazu credits Ancelotti’s exceptional man-management skills.
“He’s managing very well the psychology of the player. And, for me, it is the most important thing if you are a good player,” Lizarazu said of Ancelotti. “It’s not a question of tactics. It’s not a question of the physical preparation. It’s managing the brain of the player – that the player feels good.”
“I think now he knows the players very well,” Lizarazu added. “The club is improving in the good moment of the season – the moment where you can win everything or lose everything.”
Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.
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