Premier League

Madrid wary of ‘bestia negra’ Bayern in ‘European Clasico’

Madrid wary of 'bestia negra' Bayern in 'European Clasico'

Real Madrid’s Marcelo (L), Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema (R) celebrate after eliminating Bayern Munich in the 2018 Champions League semi-final (OSCAR DEL POZO)

Real Madrid have their sights set on a Liga and Champions League double, but to lift the latter they must find a way past Bayern Munich, their "bestia negra" — "black beast".

Carlo Ancelotti's side travel to Bavaria for the semi-final first leg clash on Tuesday, in a fixture dubbed the 'European Clasico', the most repeated in the competition's history.

Despite Madrid's forbidding nickname for Bayern, they have shaded the Bundesliga side across their 26 encounters, with 12 wins to Bayern's 11.

In the last decade Madrid clearly have the edge on the German giants.

The record 14-time winners knocked out Bayern in each of their three most recent tangles, in the semi-finals in 2014 and 2018, and the quarter-finals in 2017.

Real went on to win the Champions League every time. Ancelotti was on the receiving end in 2017, when Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick knocked his Bayern side out in extra-time at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A few months later Bayern sacked the Italian, with Madrid's return to the Allianz Arena a chance for the competition's most decorated coach to prove a point to his former employers.

With Bayern losing their grip on the Bundesliga title to upstarts Bayer Leverkusen this season, the relative quality of Ancelotti's all-too-brief era is missed.

Back then, Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso was a key part of Bayern's spine — how times change.

Ancelotti argued the refereeing was bad on that night, with Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal harshly dismissed, and one of Ronaldo's goals offside.

It was another example of Madrid somehow finding a way to win in Europe from tricky situations.

Bayern, six-time Champions League winners, have only lifted the trophy once since their 2013 triumph over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.

By contrast, Los Blancos have won it five times in that period.

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said last week Madrid's success breeds more success, after they showed steel to overcome champions Manchester City on penalties in the quarter-finals.

"When you have won so much, you play with more calm, less desperation, more confidence," said the Barcelona coach.

Those qualities are what Ancelotti will encourage his team to show in Munich on Tuesday.

No team from outside of Spain has beaten Madrid on more occasions than Bayern's 11 wins.

– 'Best moment' –

Needing Champions League glory to avoid a miserable season, Thomas Tuchel's side's main threat is England striker Harry Kane.

The former Tottenham striker has 35 goals this season, a personal record.

"They've had a tough season but right now they are probably in their best moment and they have Kane, who scores a lot of goals," said Ancelotti.

"It will be an even tie, hard-fought, and we will have to battle, but we're delighted to play it, and with a lot of confidence."

Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin was the hero in the shoot-out win over City as he saved two penalties, but will feel the pressure of Thibaut Courtois breathing down his neck as he prepares to keep Kane at bay.

Ancelotti said the Belgian is fit again and will play next weekend in La Liga, meaning Lunin may face a fight for his place for the second leg or potential final.

The Ukrainian made a mistake in the Clasico on April 21 against Barcelona to hand the Catalans a goal but his side won 3-2 to take a dominant lead in La Liga.

Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich's horrendous mistake the last time the teams met may play on his mind.

Deputising for the injured Manuel Neuer, Ulreich went to collect a backpass before realising he could not handle the ball.

The reserve goalkeeper let it slide past him, to the delight of Karim Benzema who pounced, sending Madrid through to the final.

Jude Bellingham has stepped into Benzema's shoes as Madrid's top scorer, and he has delivered on the big occasion this season, with three goals in three games against Barcelona.

The England international was injured and did not play on the final day last season as Dortmund lost out to Bayern in the German title race and Bellingham would love to get one over his former rivals in the 'European Clasico'.

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