Euro challengers defy the odds

Real and Barça suffer defeats in the first leg of the semifinals

Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas reacts to Bayern Munich’s first goal, scored by Franck Ribéry. / ANDREAS GEBERT (EFE)

Neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona probably imagined they would find themselves behind in their respective Champions League ties against Bayern Munich and Chelsea, a situation that may temper this weekend’s clásico; the Bernabéu club would like the Liga trophy back, but it is the European prize it craves the most.

In truth, both sides appeared to be suffering from a lack of competition this season. Barcelona, AC Milan aside, has enjoyed a serene passage in the Champions League and Real, other than a late goal in Moscow, has not had to slip out of first gear to reach this stage. So it was perhaps something of a shock to come up against a snarling, lightning quick Bayern and a Chelsea side that rarely ventured beyond its own half in a typically rugged English rearguard action that stifled the attacking intent of Leo Messi and co.

In reality, Barcelona will be the least concerned of the two about the return leg — indeed, it seemed that after around 20 minutes had elapsed at Stamford Bridge the players had decided to leave the affair on hold until next week. Didier Drogba scored the only goal of the game with Chelsea’s sole shot on target in 90 minutes; hardly statistics to chill Barça’s spine from a team playing at home.

The wider pitch at Camp Nou will allow Barça more space than it received in London and in terms of possession it will be confident of keeping Chelsea’s shot tally to a similar level.

Real, on the other hand, faces uncertainty on two fronts. It must win the clásico to all but wrap up the league but it must also conserve resources for Bayern, which plays with Teutonic intensity no matter the location. Real was run ragged to keep the Munich side at bay in the Allianz Arena and with a 1-2 deficit from that match it must not only score, but prevent Bayern from doing so. An away goal would be disastrous.

Thus José Mourinho has a delicate juggling act to perform. A four-point cushion at the top of La Liga means defeat in Catalonia would not be catastrophic, but the manner of Real’s approach to the game will be under the usual scrutiny; a defensive slug-fest is unlikely to be tolerated if it does not reap victory. However, Mesut Özil is likely to be kept in reserve for the Bayern match, robbing Real of its craftiest lock-picker at Camp Nou.

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