A Karim Benzema goal has given Real Madrid a first-leg lead in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.
Benzema netted after Cristiano Ronaldo split Jerome Boateng and Rafinha with a through ball for the overlapping Fabio Coentrao, who was able to tee up Benzema for a simple finish.
Xabi Alonso said at a pre-match Press conference that possession is not the be all and end all and so Carlo Ancelotti’s team set out to prove. Bayern had two-thirds of the ball but Madrid entered a disciplined performance.
Ronaldo was passed fit to start the match with Madrid lining-up in a 4-4-2 formation in the absence of Gareth Bale, on the bench after a bout of flu. Angel Di Maria moved to the right while Isco came in on the left and Ronaldo partnered Benzema. Coentrao remained at left-back despite Marcelo being fit enough for the bench.
Bayern went with Mario Mandzukic as an orthodox striker rather than Thomas Muller and fielded Phillip Lahm in midfield, with Rafinha at right-back. Spain international Javi Martinez was restricted to a substitute role due to a stomach problem.
The visitors dominated the opening half in terms of possession but with Madrid sitting deep and keeping their lines compact, chances were few and far between. Madrid duly took the lead, Benzema scoring after Los Blancos’ first real break of the match. Ronaldo fed Coentrao and the France international converted from the full-back’s square ball.
Madrid broke with more regularity after the goal and started to test Manuel Neuer, Ronaldo having a header saved and Di Maria seeing a shot well stopped by the Germany international. Ronaldo should have at least worked Neuer but instead he sent the ball high over the bar.
Despite the occasional flurry the pattern continued throughout the half in much the same way. Bayern had the ball but Madrid had numbers behind it and pace on the break. At one point Bayern had 75% of possession but Madrid had 100% of the goals.
Much of the match was fought out on the Madrid left, the Bayern right. Bayern looked to overload Isco and Coentrao while Madrid attempted to exploit the weakness of Rafinha. Madrid blocks rained in when Bayern found a gap but there was no such committed defending from Pep Guardiola’s side.
Ronaldo drew a save from Neuer in the first goalmouth action of the second-half but it wasn’t a portent of things to come. Bayern again had plenty of the ball but Madrid still had defenders in attendance.
Half-chances came and went for Bayern as Madrid defended their lead soundly. Arjen Robben was the holders’ main spark but the former Madrid winger was unable to conjure up an end product. Ronaldo was more efficient despite not appearing fully fit, going close again.
Martinez was brought into the fray just past the hour mark, replacing Rafinha, with Lahm moving to right-back but little really changed. Bayern’s build-up play was still slow and Madrid’s defending as authoritative as from the first minute.
The final quarter of an hour brought a flurry of subs - Ronaldo and Pepe went off, the latter with a limp, for Bale and Raphael Varane, while Bayern withdrew Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger for Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller.
Bayern finally found space on the edge of the Madrid area, a quick interchange allowing the substitute to fire past the post before Bale caused havoc in the Bayern area with a drilled cross that Dante cleared over the bar.
Iker Casillas was finally called into real action in the 84th minute, parrying Gotze’s attempt, as Madrid saw out the match despite a late scramble and penalty appeal to claim what could be a crucial win and, perhaps more importantly, a clean sheet.
Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich
Benzema 19 (RM)
Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe (Varane 74), Ramos, Coentrao; Modric, Alonso, Isco (Illarra 81); Di Maria, Benzema, Ronaldo (Bale 74)
Bayern Munich: Neuer; Rafinha (Martinez 67), Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Lahm, Schweinsteiger (Muller 74), Kroos; Robben, Ribery (Gotze 74), Mandzukic