By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Bayern Munich are playing a dangerous game. Football is often all about momentum and since winning the Bundesliga in late March, Pep Guardiola's side have been desperately disappointing.
Saturday's laboured win at bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig was more of the same. Two goals in the last 15 minutes from Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic gave Bayern what was a comfortable cushion in the end. In truth, however, the scoreline flattered the champions and a similar showing on Wednesday will likely leave their Champions League hopes hanging in the balance.
Guardiola has never lost at the Santiago Bernabeu as coach and will prepare with precision and attention to detail for Wednesday's match, but Real Madrid approach the European clash on a high after claiming the Copa del Rey this week. Bayern, by comparison, have recently resembled a pale shadow of the side which swept to a stunning treble under Jupp Heynckes in 2012-13.
After sealing the Bundesliga crown last term, Heynckes' team remained relentless, thrashing Nurnberg 4-0, then hammering Hannover 6-1 in a run of six wins and a draw (at Borussia Dortmund) in their final seven league matches, while also beating in-form Juventus 2-0 away from home to seal a place in the Champions League semi-finals with a 4-0 aggregate success.
|BAYERN SINCE WINNING THE TITLE
|Hoffenheim (h)||Mar 29||Drew 3-3|
|Man Utd (a)||Apr 1||Drew 1-1|
|Augsburg (a)||Apr 5||Lost 1-0|
|Man Utd (h)||Apr 9||Won 3-1|
|Dortmund (a)||Apr 12||Lost 3-0|
|Kaiserslautern (h)||Apr 15||Won 5-1|
|Braunschweig (a)||Apr 19||Won 2-0|
Guardiola no doubt had Wednesday's trip to Madrid on his mind, but the former Barca boss nevertheless picked a strong side and not only did Bayern fail to find their rhythm until late in the game, they also looked vulnerable on the counterattack - something particular concerning ahead of a meeting with players like Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria and, if fit, Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Madrid are always a difficult team," Guardiola said before the game against Braunschweig. "They have just won the Copa and they will be even more sure of themselves."
The Catalan coach also added that in order to play well against Madrid, his side would need to produce a positive performance on Saturday. "We need a good game to prepare us for Madrid," he said.
But he didn't get one and must now find a way to motivate his toiling team for what is probably their greatest challenge so far this term. "We won't arrive at the Bernabeu in our best moment," the 43-year-old admitted afterwards.
Madrid haven't impressed in all of their big matches this season by any means, but as Guardiola said, the Copa success over Barcelona on Wednesday will give Ancelotti's side renewed confidence, while the Spanish side also have a weekend off because their league game at Valladolid has been switched and are hoping to welcome back Ronaldo from injury, too.
In football, form and impetus can count for a lot. Just ask Barcelona. The Catalans were on target for a treble just 10 days ago, but now look likely to end the season without a major trophy after their European exit to Atletico, the Copa defeat to Real and a shock Liga loss to Granada last weekend.
Madrid's momentum makes them even more dangerous ahead of Wednesday's game, while Bayern's fluctuating form is far from the ideal preparation for a big Champions League semi-final. So fans of the Munich side will hope Guardiola can lift their team at the ground where he has masterminded some of his most memorable triumphs as a coach. Over to you then, Pep.
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