Real Madrid pounces, leaves Bayern Munich with Champions League deja vu

Real Madrid players celebrate Marcelo’s goal in the first half of their Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich. (Getty)

There is very little rhyme or reason to Real Madrid’s Champions League dominance, other than it occurs. Year after year. Round after round. It repeats itself. And no matter what fellow European giants do to combat it, it just continues.

The performances oscillate. The level of Madrid’s play ebbs and flows. The styles and strategy vary. The results, over the past five years, rarely have.

Bayern Munich was the latest opponent to be on the wrong end of deja vu. Just as the Bavarians did last year at the quarterfinal stage, they did this year in the semis. They fell 2-1 against the run of play in the first leg at home, and left themselves needing victory in Madrid to put an end to Real’s unprecedented run.

And they’ll spend the rest of their Wednesday nights wondering, befuddled, just how they let this happen again.

Bayern was, despite injuries to Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng, the better team for large chunks of the 90 minutes. But it squandered opportunities. Los Blancos took theirs. And they responded to Joshua Kimmich’s opener twice to put themselves in position to advance to a fourth Champions League final in five years.

The first half was defined by The Full Marcelo Experience. Zinedine Zidane’s starting 11 was a compromise between his standard attacking formation and and its more measured defensive variation. But it was an unbalanced compromise that stretched Madrid a bit too thin. And one of the stronger forces pulling it apart was Marcelo.

Real’s left back wandered wherever he pleased, as he always does. It’s part of his charm – and part of what makes him the best in the world. But in the first half, Madrid needed a bit more positional discipline. Marcelo’s lack of that very trait led to Kimmich’s goal.

The Brazilian, as spacey as ever, chased down a ball as it skipped toward Bayern Munich’s end line. And then he kept chasing it. And kept chasing it. Not until a second ball, tossed to Munich keeper Sven Ulreich by a ball boy, was in play did Marcelo realize he was hopelessly out of position.

His lack of urgency getting back into position proved costly. Munich broke with pace and precision, right through the half-space, right through the space into which Marcelo should have retreated. Nobody tracked Marcelo’s opposite number, Kimmich. And Keylor Navas was caught out trying to anticipate a cross.

But Navas would redeem himself later. In the second half, he used a similar anticipatory approach to deny Franck Ribery, who was one of Bayern’s most threatening players. He held his ground late in the first half to save Robert Lewandowski’s header.

Bayern was on top for a solid 20 minutes toward the end of the first 45. Thomas Muller twice caught Marcelo flat-footed on crosses, and twice came close to doubling the lead.

But then Marcelo had his say at the other end:

The equalizer didn’t necessarily wrest the game from Bayern’s grasp. But it was the first hint of deja vu. The first reminder of inevitability. Nobody quite knew how Madrid would complete the turnaround. But Marcelo’s strike was the first sign that mere superiority on the night wouldn’t be enough.

And sure enough, after Bayern had come close to retaking the lead on multiple occasions, it presented Madrid with the one glimmer of opportunity it needed. The visitors pounced.

Specifically, Lucas Vazquez – a surprise starter – and Marco Asensio – a second half sub tasked with quelling Bayern’s repetitive attacks – pounced. Rafinha’s giveaway set the two Spaniards on their way, and they executed expertly:

After spending much of the opening hour wobbling, the two-time defending European champions suddenly looked comfortable. They were comfortable because they were back where they belonged – back where they have been time and time again over the past five season: in control of a Champions League knockout tie, and seemingly on course for a three-peat.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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