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.
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.
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.
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.
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.