El Centrocampista

Ribery outshines Ronaldo as Bayern bag slender lead

Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images
In the summer of 2009 it seemed only a matter of time before Franck Ribery would become a Real Madrid player, with ‘los merengue’ apparently willing to pay almost as much as the world record 94 million euro fee which they paid that same summer for Cristiano Ronaldo. Nearly three years on, Bayern Munich’s refusal to let him go was rewarded with a starring performance in his side’s 2-1 victory over a Madrid side for whom the Portuguese superstar looked decidedly out of sorts.

Ribery and Arjen Robben gave the Madrid full backs a torrid time all evening, although both showed the more unsavoury side of their game with their willingness to go to ground all too easily. Referee Howard Webb had a good game overall, but the antics of players from both sides made for a trying evening for him, and many will have enjoyed the caution handed out late on to substitute Gonzalo Higuain for brandishing an imaginary yellow card.

However there will be others who will have been surprised that Marcelo was not sent for a slightly early bath in injury time, after a wild lunging tackle on Thomas Moller. And Bayern fans will no doubt argue that they should have had a penalty in each half, with challenges from Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao on Ribery and Mario Gomez respectively going unpunished.

By that stage the visitors looked to have earned what would have been an excellent draw, having been second best for much of the evening. Ribery deservedly fired the hosts in front after Jose Mourinho’s men had once again shown their fallibility from set pieces, although his 17th minute strike could arguably have been disallowed for offside. However Ronaldo’s one meaningful contribution on the night led to a second half equaliser, when having missed a great opportunity, he set up Mesut Ozil after Karim Benzema’s scuffed shot appeared to be drifting harmlessly wide.

That goal initially knocked the stuffing out of Bayern, but they regained their composure and dominated the last twenty minutes. Gomez had already had two excellent opportunities to restore the lead when with seconds of normal time remaining, Philip Lahm escaped down the right flank and put in a low cross. The big striker was not going to pass up a third opportunity, bundling the ball home from close range to give his slenderest of advantages going into the second leg at the Bernabeu next Wednesday.

Ten years ago the two sides were faced with an identical scenario, after a victory by the same score for Bayern in the Olympic Stadium in their quarter final first leg tie. On that occasion Madrid won the second leg 2-0 and went on to defeat Barcelona in the semis, before lifting the trophy at Hampden Park against Bayer Leverkusen thanks to that memorable goal from Zinedine Zidane.

The chances of history repeating itself are still reasonable, but Mourinho has some big decisions to make over the next week. Coentrao had a bad night at the office against Robben, and the only real alternative at left back is Marcelo, whose indiscipline late on had even pro Madrid newspaper ‘Marca’ suggesting that he should have seen red. Angel Di Maria had little impact on proceedings before being replaced near the end, and he is surely not up to three big games in a week after his lengthy injury problems.

However as is so often the case, Madrid’s prospects over the next 180 minutes depend hugely on the form of Ronaldo. Whether it was the theft of three pairs of his boots before the game, or some other concern which seemed to weigh on his shoulders, the man whose presence has proved decisive for his side time and time again this season was very subdued at the Allianz Arena. If he can put it behind him and have two big games when it matters most, Real Madrid will surely be very close to a La Liga and Champions League double by the end of next Wednesday night.

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