The UEFA Champions League final is in Milan and Bayern München are up against a Madrid club in the semi-finals – exactly the situation the Bavarians faced in 2001, and that did not turn out so badly.
However, defeats by Spanish opponents in successive semi-finals have given Josep Guardiola’s side cause for trepidation, and they go into their first leg against Atlético having won only two of their last 12 games on Spanish soil.
Statistics may not tell the whole story, though. Those losses – to Real Madrid in 2014 and Barcelona last time out – were perhaps rooted in Bayern’s injury problems at the time, and in both cases their opponents had the greater motivation, having won the UEFA Champions League less recently than the German champions.
This time around, Bayern look to have a pretty much full-strength squad to pick from, and the way they recovered from setbacks in the second legs against Juventus and Benfica suggests that Josep Guardiola’s side have developed greater reserves of determination.
They will need them if they are to get the better of Atlético, as well as a real ruthlessness in attack. Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller have scored 16 between them in this season’s competition, and thus take genuine firepower to the Spanish capital, but they will need to make it count. Missed first-leg chances proved costly in their last two semi-finals, and against the most effective defence in Europe – injury concerns notwithstanding – Bayern must seize on any opportunities that come their way.
Guardiola, meanwhile, is not burdened by recent history as he faces up to this challenge. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past,” he said. “In football, you can only focus on the future. In the end it all depends on our mental performance.”
In this respect, Guardiola must know that Bayern are up against the masters. “I know exactly how special Atlético’s team is and with how much determination they play,” the soon-to-be Manchester City boss noted a few days ago, and his Bayern side will need to be able to match the Colchoneros’ willpower as much as their ball skills.
The Guardiola era at Bayern is coming to an end, and one can only imagine that with his ardent perfectionism, the former Barcelona man will be spending hours working on his pre-match team talk in the days ahead. After all, the final conclusion on his time with the club may hinge on how much silverware he delivers in May.