Bayern Munich head into their Champions League clash against Real Madrid with huge anticipation. The semi-final hurdle is the toughest, so far, in defending their title.
On Wednesday evening, vociferous Real Madrid supporters will be spurring their team forward at 81,000-capacity Estadio Bernabeu. The 4,000 traveling Bayern Munich fans will likewise try to make themselves heard, but the Bavarian side's players don't worry about external circumstances like the atmosphere or the size of the stadium.
"I just look forward to every time that I play here," captain Philipp Lahm said. "It is one of the finest stadiums. I know the stadium only when it is sold out - and I usually go back home with a good feeling."
As much as Lahm and his team are looking forward to the match, they will need to re-find their rhythm and old form against the Spanish record champions to reach the final.
"Many players have not performed to our high standards," Lahm said. "We must give everything."
Bayern won 2-0 at the weekend against Eintracht Braunschweig and also were victorious a few days prior in the German Cup semifinal, winning 5-1 against second tier side Kaiserslautern. The previous games, however, went anything but well. Before the Cup win against Lautern, Bayern were caught out two league games in a row against Borussia Dortmund (0-3) and Augsburg (0-1) and held to a 3-3 draw at home by Hoffenheim.
Against Real Madrid, Bayern should now look to repeat and build on the performances that have made them the earliest champions in Bundesliga history.
"Here, two absolutely top teams with great experience in the Champions League meet each other. So heart and passion will decide," predicted Lahm. "Everybody has to play with lots of heart and passion. But if that doesn't happen in the Champions League semifinal, then where?"
Guardiola: "toughest opponents"
If anyone knows how to get a good result at Real Madrid, then it is Bayern coach Pep Guardiola. Between 2008 and 2012, he led former club Barcelona in 15 competitive games against Real Madrid and only lost twice. But he cautions his "good statistics against Real Madrid are from another club at another time."
He believes today's Real Madrid team is better than the one from a few years ago. "I see a development," Guardiola said. "They were always a great team and currently are one of the toughest opponents that you can get in the semifinals of the Champions League."
It will therefore please the Bayern coach that regular goalkeeper Manuel Neuer can feature again against Real Madrid. The national team keeper will replace Lukas Raeder, having trained for the past few days after recovering from muscle tightness in his calf.
Bale and Ronaldo fit again
For Real Madrid, two important players are fit again. Cristiano Ronaldo has recovered from a muscle injury sustained in the April 2 quarterfinal tie against Borussia Dortmund, and will start on the left-wing against Bayern.
On the right wing, Gareth Bale returns. The 91 million euro ($125.8 million) Welshman has had a cold for the past couple of days and had to take a break from training. Bale brilliantly replaced Ronaldo in the Copa del Rey final last week against archrivals Barcelona, making headlines with his spectacular winning goal in the 2-1 win.
Still, Real Madrid have a very strong team aside from Ronaldo and Bale, which will demand a lot from Bayern. The Spanish giants are strong in virtually every position. But it's not necessarily important who starts for Real Madrid because Bayern's greatest opponent will probably be themselves. If Bayern can find their best form, it will be a tough challenge for Real to beat them.