Illustration for article titled The Champions League Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Been Final

Bayern Munich are the reigning Champions League title holders, the consensus best team in Germany, and were on a 54 match unbeaten streak (with 19 league wins in a row) until after they recently clinched the Bundesliga title. With stars such as Ribery, Robben, Thiago, Shaquiri, Schweinsteiger, and Lahm, not to mention a squad so deep that Thomas Muller, in current possession of the World Cup Golden Boot, serves as a common substitute, they are almost unquestionably the best team in the world.


Real Madrid have the best goal differential in La Liga, the Ballon d'Or winner in Cristiano Ronaldo, won their last three Liga matches by a total of 13-0, and are coming off a Copa del Rey victory where Gareth Bale made like Speedy Gonzalez to score the crucial winner. With stars such as Benzema, Di Maria, Modric, Sergio Ramos, Bale, and Ronaldo, not to mention a squad so deep that Isco and Illarramendi, worth over a combined $90 million, serve as common substitutes, they are almost unquestionably the best team in the world.

This is the match that everyone had pegged as both the likely Champions League Final and the game people most wanted to see as the Champions League Final. Instead, FIFA's random drawing system took the two prohibitive favorites and made sure they couldn't be knocked out before they had the chance to play each other. While losing a touch of prestige, this is a positive development for neutrals because now we get to see these teams play 180 minutes instead of just 90. With the German and Spanish leagues not generally available on American television, this is your chance to watch the two best teams in the world go balls-out for a chance at glory.


There have been some interesting developments in squad selection this year. Each team has an old face in a new (central midfielder) place; Angel Di Maria was one of the best wingers in Europe until Gareth Bale's arrival forced him to make his contributions lower on the pitch, while a string of injuries changed Phillip Lahm from the best right back in the world to one of the top holding midfielders in the world. Sami Khedira's injuries have forced Real boss Carlo Ancellotti into fielding an attacking midfield three of Di Maria, Modric, and Xavi Alonso more often than not, and while Bayern's wings have stayed occupied (and inverted) by Ribery and Robben, attacking midfield has been occupied by Kroos, Muller, Thiago, and Shaquiri, just to name a few. Real's (relative) weaknesses are right back, where Carvajal is solid but forgettable, and keeper, where Saint Iker Casillas is elite but has seen his league playing time stolen by Diego Lopes. When Bayern look off it tends to be either up front, where Mario Mandzukic is more poacher than elite striker, or in central defense, where Dante and Boateng looked undone by the early Arsenal pressure two months ago.

Enjoying this game will be even better with a beer that matches the quality of the players; a Peeper Ale from Maine Brewing Company will do just the trick. A terrific American Pale Ale, its strong hop scent will make you feel like you're about to go on a ruthless counter, while the smooth, springy flavor will bring out the silky skill sure to be on display. That this match won't crown a European king should not dampen your enthusiasm; the potential is there for this tie to live on long after the king has been buried.

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