When FC Bayern München and FC Internazionale Milano meet next week, the spectre of last season's UEFA Champions League final will loom large. Internazionale, of course, got the upper hand in Madrid last May, but the Bayern team they tackle on Wednesday may prove a tougher proposition.
Not that it has been a smooth upward trajectory for the Bavarians since they missed out on what would have been a historic treble in the Spanish capital. They have already all but conceded defeat in the chase to catch runaway Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund – though that simply means they are doubly determined to achieve success on the continental stage.
Their best hope of doing that will be Robbery. No, Bayern are not about to embark on a trophy-grabbing raid, yet they do have their very own dynamic duo in Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben – nicknamed Robbery by the German media – whom Inter will face together for the first time.
Where suspension excluded Ribéry from the Madrid showpiece, a slate of injuries and off-the-pitch problems caused the winger's patchy form on it during the first part of the season. However, there have been shades of vintage Ribéry in recent weeks, and a virtuoso display against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on 12 February – the French international laid on two goals in a thumping 4-0 win – suggests Inter's defence may struggle to handle his je ne sais quoi.
Ribéry refinding his feet has coincided with Robben's return to the side after yet another injury lay-off. The Dutch international's fitness woes have been well-documented, but when he has played at Bayern, rarely has he disappointed. He hit the ground – quite literally – running on his comeback last month for the first time since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and his double strike against Hoffenheim left him with five goals in as many competitive matches this term.
Individually, Robben and Ribéry are impressive; united, Bayern are virtually unbeatable. They have suffered just one defeat and registered six wins from the nine Bundesliga games when Louis van Gaal has been able to put both names on his team sheet.
Inter, though, have to worry about more than Robbery stealing the silverware. Mario Gomez got barely 20 minutes of action in last season's final, a cameo which summed up the bystander's role he played for much of 2009/10. Fast forward to early 2011 and the Germany forward is lead man, centre stage. Injuries to Ivica Olić and Miroslav Klose have given Gomez his chance and how he has seized it. His goal against Hoffenheim made it ten in his last eight competitive outings – and a scarcely believable 26 goals in 30 appearances this campaign, including six in the UEFA Champions League, a tally bettered only by Inter's Samuel Eto'o.
Add to that Thomas Müller finally beginning to reproduce the performances that marked him as a standout figure in South Africa last summer, Bastian Schweinsteiger's greater poise in central midfield, and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk – nominally a midfielder – surprisingly bringing greater stability to the back four alongside Holger Badstuber, and Bayern arguably have the ingredients to end the champions' title defence in the round of 16.
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