Bayern and Real Madrid are two of the four biggest clubs in the world by any measure and have been for decades. They’re also two of the three or four best teams in the world right now, as they seem to be every year. That alone makes Bayern-Real such a mouthwatering tie, but there’s more to it than that.
This is the best rivalry in Champions League history.
No teams are more consistently great than Real Madrid and Bayern
Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are arguably the two best teams in the history of the competition. Real are on top with their record 11 Champions League/European Cup titles. Bayern’s five titles are tied for third all-time with Liverpool and Barcelona, two behind AC Milan’s seven, but it’s their consistency that stands out.
Bayern have made at least the quarterfinals 28 times, second only to Real’s 34. Barcelona are third with 19 appearances in the final eight, while Milan have 15 and Liverpool 13. Bayern have also made five straight semifinals. Real have made six straight. Milan hasn’t made a UCL semi in 10 years.
If there was a 'European Clasico' it would be Bayern vs Real
No fixture has been played more often in the Champions League or European Cup than this one. Wednesday’s game will be the 23rd meeting, and the 21st in the knockout stage. This season marks the eight time in the last 18 years they’ve drawn each other in Europe. And you thought Arsenal vs Bayern was a lock every year.
It's always a toss-up
The rivalry has always been incredibly even. Bayern narrowly lead the all-time series with 11 wins to Real’s nine, while there have only ever been two draws. And of the previous ten knockout stage ties, each club has won five.
They're routinely each other's biggest test
This may be the most telling stat: the winner of Bayern vs Real has gone on to reach the final in seven of the previous ten ties, and won it all five times. If you believe in numbers, there's a 50-50 chance one of these two will lift the cup in Cardiff.
Let’s take a closer look at Bayern and Real’s epic European history:
The European Cup era
Bayern held the upper hand the first two times they met in Europe. Gerd Mueller scored all three Bayern goals to dispatch Real in the 1976 semifinals before the club won their third straight European Cup. In 1987, Bayern came out on top in the semifinal stage again thanks to a 4-1 first-leg win in Munich.
Real got some measure of revenge the following season, beating Bayern 4-3 on aggregate in a quarterfinal thriller, but they were bounced by eventual champion PSV in the next round.
The height of the rivalry (1999-2002)
Bayern vs Real didn’t spawn into a legitimate rivalry until the turn of the millennium, when between 1998 and 2002 Real won three Champions League titles while Bayern won it in ‘01 and lost a heart-breaking final to Man United in ‘99. Bayern and Real faced each other eight times in those five seasons, each time looking like they could go on to win the competition.
It started in the ‘99-‘00 second group stage. Bayern trounced Real 4-2 and 4-1, and earned the nickname “La Bestia Negra” (“The Black Beast”) from the Spanish press and Madridistas. But Real stunned the Germans two rounds later in the semifinals, winning 3-2 on aggregate thanks to two goals from, who else, Nicolas Anelka. Real then won the title.
Bayern returned the favor the following season, winning both semifinal legs thanks to goals from Giovane Elber. A win over Valencia on penalties ended Bayern’s 25-year European Cup drought.
The new rivals then got paired up for a third straight season, this time in the quarterfinals. Bayern won the first leg at home, 2-1, but Real advanced 3-2 on aggregate before winning their third title in five years.
The last 15 years
Both clubs struggled in Europe in the mid- to late 2000s, but their head-to-head matchups remained spicy. Real’s ‘Galacticos’ destroyed Bayern on paper but scraped by Bayern in the ’03-‘04 Round of 16 on a Zinedine Zidane winner in the 2nd Bayern won on away goals in the ’06-‘07 Round of 16, with Roy Makaay famously scoring the fastest goal in UCL history – 10.2 seconds after kickoff – in the decisive second leg in Munich.
This decade both clubs have been challenging again year after year, so naturally they’ve collided. In 2011-12, Bayern beat Real in an epic semifinal thriller on penalties at the Bernabeu, with Manuel Neuer making two saves on Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. Two years later, the last time they faced each other, Real produced the most lopsided victory of the rivalry’s history. Ronaldo & Co. hammered Pep Guardiola’s Bayern 5-0 on aggregate, winning the second leg 4-0 in Munich. It was Bayern’s worst home loss in their European history and propelled Real to La Decima – their tenth UCL title. Real’s coach – Carlo Ancelotti.
The 2017 edition is bound to be another classic
Bayern vs Real always lives up to the hype and it will again this year. Both clubs lead their respective leagues and have hit peak form at the perfect time. Robert Lewandowski and Thiago Alcantara have been unconsciously good for Bayern the past few months, and Real Madrid’s backline will be without the injured Pepe and Raphael Varane.
On the other side, there’s two-time reigning player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo trying to lead Real to their third Champions League crown in four years and his fourth overall, which would tie him with you-know-who. And on the sidelines? How about Ancelotti facing his former club and his old assistant, Zinedine Zidane? Yeah, that’ll do.
There’s no bad blood between Bayern and Madrid, unlike their domestic rivalries. For all their history, they’ve never played each other in the final (but maybe next year is the year). It’s a rivalry built on mutual respect, not hatred. But you could argue the stakes are always higher than in ‘El Clasico’ or ‘Der Klassiker.’ For these two, nothing compares to a Champions League title, and chances are that in order to win it, they must go through each other.