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UEFA Champions League: Your semifinals are set; here are the four survivors

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The matchups will be drawn on Friday, but over the last 24 hours, we’ve learned which teams will make up this year’s UEFA Champions League semifinals. With wins over Manchester United and Barcelona, Bayern Munich, the reigning champions, and Atlético Madrid have moved into the final four, with Chelsea and Real Madrid having already confirmed their semifinal spots.

While some possible meetings may carry more drama than others, the teams’ histories, styles, and potential matchups make it difficult to imagine a bad semifinal. Even Atlético Madrid and Chelsea — the least glamorous of the surviving foursome — would offer a compelling clash of styles, with Atleti given a chance to show another side of their game against a team that has little in common with Barcelona.

Here’s how this year’s semifinalists reached this point in UEFA Champions League.

source:  Atlético Madrid

League: Spain
Standing: First place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: Never won
Last semifinal: 1974
Record, this year’s CL: 8-2-0
CL path: Finished first in Group G, ahead of Zenit St. Petersburg, Porto, Austria Wien; defeated AC Milan in the Round of 16, 5-1; eliminated Barcelona in the quarterfinals, 2-1.
Approach: Effort, organization, execution and belief lead to opportunities, then results.
Common perception: This is the weakest team in the draw.
Semifinal reality: Atlético an approach that can matchup with anybody’s. As we’ve seen against Barcelona, the Colchoneros don’t need the ball to be effective, and they’re perfectly capable of creating mistakes high up the field. Their recent success against Real Madrid speaks to their ability to match up with the Merengues, while matchup with Chelsea would present the opponent least capable of opening up the tournament’s best defense. Perception is one thing, but in reality, Atlético is a contender for this title.

(MORE: Atlético Madrid breaks through, sends Barcelona out of Champions League)

source:  Bayern Munich

League: Germany
Standing: First place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: 2013
Last semifinal: 2013
Record, this year’s CL: 7-2-1
CL path: Finished first in Group D, ahead of Manchester City, Viktoria Plzen, CSKA Moscow; defeated Arsenal in the Round of 16, 3-1; eliminated Manchester United in the quarterfinals, 4-2.
Approach: With better players we play better soccer; we’ll pass you into submission.
Common perception: The clear favorites; the best team in the world.
Semifinal reality: They’re the favorites, but they also may want to draw the perceived number two: Real Madrid. Teams that can defend and counter have a chance against anybody, but Bayern seems particularly troubled by the approach. Atlético looks like a particularly troublesome matchup.

(MORE: Bayern Munich ease into Champions League semis, as Manchester United crash out)

source:  Chelsea

League: England
Standing: Second place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: 2012
Last semifinal: 2012
Record, this year’s CL: 6-1-3
CL path: Finished first in Group E, ahead of Schalke, Basel, Steaua Bucharest; defeated Galatasaray in the Round of 16, 3-1; eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals, 3-3.
Approach: With strength at the back and skill in transition, we’ll find a way.
Common perception: While their coach makes them dangerous, this is a team the favorites would be happy to draw.
Semifinal reality: If they beat PSG, they can beat anybody, and while a lot of that had to do with the Parisians not rising to the occasion at Stamford Bridge, Bayern and Real Madrid are not perfect sides, either. If you have a weakness, Chelsea’s approach gives the team a chance, and this year’s semifinalists are far from perfect. The former champions are an underdog, but not a huge one.

(MORE: Chelsea stun Paris Saint-Germain, late goal sends Blues into Champions League semifinals)

source:  Real Madrid

League: Spain
Standing: Third place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: 2002
Last semifinal: 2013
Record, this year’s CL: 8-1-1
CL path: Finished first in Group B, ahead of Galatasaray, Juventus, Copenhagen; defeated Schalke in the Round of 16, 9-2; eliminated Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals, 3-2.
Approach: With brawn at the back, power in attack, history is within reach.
Common perception: This team has the talent to dethrone Bayern, and given the heights they reached this winter, they’ve shown they can play at the champions’ level.
Semifinal reality: This is a deeply dangerous put very flawed team, one that looked vulnerable in both defense and midfield against Borussia Dortmund. Given recent loses in La Liga, this is no longer the team that climbed to the top of the table in March. This is a team that could find a way to lose a fourth straight semifinal, with the mental fragility that showed up against Barcelona and (in leg two) against Dortmund potentially decisive at this point of the tournament.

(MORE: Real Madrid survives Reus, Borussia Dortmund, reaches fourth straight Champions League semifinal)

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.