Following the UEFA Champions League semifinal draw on Friday, many of Chelsea’s fans are rejoicing after they were handed Atletico Madrid.
Hold your horses their guys, will facing Atletico by an easy proposition?
Many would suggest otherwise, as the dark horse for the UCL crown knocked off Barcelona in the last round. However with European giants Real Madrid and Bayern Munich squaring up in the other semi, you can forgive Chelsea’s fan for thinking a match against Atleti is the easier of three very difficult opponents.
Superstars will collide to reach the UCL final in Lisbon, as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben, Gareth Bale and Fracnk Ribery will do battle when Bayern face Real. Stop drooling.
Without further adieu, let’s have a quick gander at both semifinals matchups and see how things could shake up.
Many are suggesting Jose Mourinho is licking his lips in anticipation of Chelsea facing Atletico Madrid… I’m not so sure. Yes, Atleti last reached the final four of the European cup 40 years ago but Diego Simeone’s side are well-drilled, lethal on the counter and are improving all the time. Like Chelsea, they prefer to defend and then hit times with lethal counter-attacks and press high up the pitch. These games will not be one for the purists but the pace will be relentless, and just one small mistake of a moment of sheer brilliance will decide who’ll reach the final in Lisbon on May 24.
If Diego Costa returns to fitness in time, John Terry and Gary Cahill will have their hands full marking him, then there’s the whole Thibaut Courtois conundrum as Chelsea’s ‘keeper is on-loan at Atletico and could play against them. Subplots will rumble along, as Mourinho returns to the Spanish capital to face the fierce rivals of his old team Real Madrid. As for the Blues, the determination and togetherness they showed to fight back and overturn a two-goal deficit against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinal was impressive. I was at Stamford Bridge in the second leg and the noise levels and support from the home fans really spurred the Blues on. Chelsea are favorites but the La Liga leaders mustn’t be underestimate.
First leg: April 22, 2:45 p.m. ET, Vicente Calderon stadium, Madrid
Second leg: April 30, 2:45 p.m. ET, Stamford Bridge stadium, London
They meet again. In the second leg of the 2012 semifinal, Real lost to Bayern on penalty kicks as the German side made up for their heartbreak at the Santiago Bernabeu 12 months earlier, when they lost the UCL final to Inter Milan in the same stadium. After beating Real in their last semi final match up, the Bundelisga champions went on to lose the final to Chelsea on PKs in their own stadium.
Now they are the reigning European champs, Real are the team with the most European cups in history and a glitzy showpiece semifinal will take place in both Madrid and Munich on April 23 and 29. Cristiano Ronaldo is rushing to be fit for the first leg but should be okay, as the Galacticos almost came unstuck against Bourssia Dortmund on Tuesday. Leading 3-0 from the first leg, Carlo Ancelotti’s side capitulated under pressure in Dortmund and trailed 2-0 early on. Somehow that is how the game finished, as Real backed into the semis tentatively. Now they are there, the quality of their squad means they must be one of the favorites to win the crown.
Bayern’s style and panache has blossomed under Pep Guardiola this season, and many soccer purists would’ve love to have seen this game be the final. Real and Bayern both possess the best attackers in the game, as Ronaldo, Ribery, Bale and Robben will do battle to seal a place in Lisbon. Expect this to be a shootout and whichever team defends best will likely go through. Bayern have an advantage with the second leg being away from home but as we saw against Manchester United they are hugely susceptible to pace and directness in the final third. That will be music to Real’s ears.
First leg: April 23, 2:45 p.m. ET, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Second leg: April 29, 2:45 p.m. ET, Allianz Arena, Munich