Master meets pupil, as Carlo Ancelotti and Bayern Munich host Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid on Wednesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie. It's the first time the two have met since Zidane served as Ancelotti's assistant at Madrid, and now they go head to head in the Champions League quarterfinals' most highly anticipated matchup. What are the keys to this one?
Javi Martinez's ability in defense
Javi Martinez has quietly been one of Bayern Munich's most dependable and versatile players since 2012 (when he's healthy, which has been a problem). He's equally capable of playing in midfield or in the center of defense, but with Mats Hummels hurt, he'll most likely be the one to partner Jerome Boateng in the heart of Bayern's back line. As solid of a player as Martinez is, he's not the quickest of defenders, and his lack of mobility could prove to be an issue against Real Madrid. His positional sense makes up for it more often than not, but he's got to be alert for 90+ minutes to avoid being preyed on by Madrid.
At this point, Sergio Ramos may have more game-winning headers than he has game-saving tackles. He's become one of the world's preeminent set piece threats in the last few years, and his aerial ability could just prove to be the difference once again in this one.
Ramos isn't just a set piece monster though, he's a pretty decent center back as well. He's got his hands full with Robert Lewandowski though, and Ramos' work in tandem with whoever lines up at center back alongside him is going to be key for Madrid to keep the rampant Germans off the board. They'll need Sergio on both sides of the ball in this one.
Thiago Alcantara running the midfield
Bayern Munich's midfield is something special, with Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcantara right up there with the very best units in the world. It's been Thiago who's stepped up in a special way this year though, and the little Spaniard has been next level in the second half of the season. Wonderfully inventive on the ball, a supreme passer, and a hard worker on the defensive side, Thiago's been the key to Bayern Munich's dominance since the new year. If he can work his magic against Madrid's midfield, good things will probably follow for Bayern.
Real Madrid's left back Marcelo is probably the most technical defender in the world. He's a constant threat going forward for Madrid, but against Bayern Munich, his primary duty will be to stop the rampant Arjen Robben. Robben's aging like fine wine, and he cannot stop scoring the same goal over and over again, coming in on that left foot of his. Marcelo's a decent defender, but it's not his biggest strength, and against Robben he could be exposed. He'll have to be on top of his game both on the ball and off it for Madrid to be successful.
Getty ImagesDenis Doyle
Robert Lewandowski staying involved
Along with Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski is Bayern's most dangerous player in front of goal. He's not just a poacher though, and part of his danger is his ability to get involved outside the box, picking the ball up and running with it into dangerous areas. It's hard to pick out many instances where Lewandowski doesn't play well, but he can suffer when he's starved of service and forced to play without the ball for long periods of time. If Madrid can deny him service, then their chances will be much better for it. If Lewandowski gets involved early and gets into a rhythm? Real Madrid best not to find out. ..
Ronaldo doing Ronaldo things
Ronaldo hasn't been very Ronaldo-esque recently. He's got more assists (3) than goals (1) in his last five games, and Madrid have only won two of the last four matches he's scored in. Zinedine Zidane needs his star man to be the Golden Ball-winning Ronaldo, and if CR7 doesn't bring it against Bayern Munich, it could be tough going. Still, it's not like Ronaldo's been slacking lately, and his new 'sharing is caring' personality has opened up Madrid's game even more. Madrid really need Ronaldo to have a big game, but it doesn't really matter if he's scoring or providing as long as they're getting goals.