The semi-final fixtures are out for both the Champions League and the Europa League and the fans have been served up a mouth-watering line-up. Bayern Munich take on Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund clash with Real Madrid, while Chelsea FC take on Swiss champions Basel.
Former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was the fan who conducted the draw this time around. The Dutchman however did express his disappointment at former club Malaga losing out in the last round, but he believed that they will come back stronger.
The Europa League semi-final draw was conducted first and here are the fixtures –
Fenerbahce SK v SS Benfica
Fenerbahce will play the first leg of this tie at home on 25th of April. The Turkish side knocked out Lazio in the last round, winning the tie 3-1 on aggregate. Things did get a bit nervy in the second leg when Senad Lulic scored for Lazio, but Caner Erkin’s goal only 13 minutes later settled the tie in favour of Fenerbahce. Aykut Kocaman’s side are still in the running for the league title as well, hence the former Turkish international will look to get the balance right in both the fronts.
Benfica are one of the favourites to win the Europa League this season. The Portuguese club won against Newcastle United in the last round. Jorge Jesus’ side is till unbeaten in the domestic league and are currently one of the most in-form side in Europe. They have lost just thrice all season and Barcelona were the last club to defeat them at home (in the Champions League). They have a strong attack upfront with Cardozo, Lima and Rodrigo all in good form and they should be considered as the favourites to win the semi-final against Fenerbahce.
FC Basel v Chelsea FC
Basel were expected to win the second leg against Tottenham with relative ease considering their performance in the first leg at White Hart Lane and also the fact that Tottenham were nearly playing a second string line-up due to injuries. But they made a meal of it. Even when Spurs were down to 10-men after Vertonghen received his marching orders, Basel failed to capitalize on their numerical advantage and it required a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner. The Swiss champions are good going forward, but are vulnerable at the back, and their defence will come under immense pressure against Chelsea.
Chelsea are the only English club left in Europe at the moment and are being considered one of the favourites to win this competition along with Benfica. But Rubin Kazan did give a scare in the second leg. Rafa Benitez’s men are still in contention for two titles at the moment – the FA Cup and the Europa League – but their priority still remains a top four finish. So it will be interesting to see how the Spaniard balances things at this crucial juncture of the season. But the London club certainly look like the favourites to win this tie on paper.
The draw for the Champions League fixture was up next and with four of the strongest teams in Europe remaining in the tournament, it was expected to deliver some mouth-watering clashes and so did it deliver.
FC Bayern Munich v FC Barcelona
Can it get bigger than this? The league leaders of Spain taking on the league leaders of Germany (Bayern have in fact already won the Bundesliga). But when one looks at the results of the last round, it is perhaps fair to say that Bayern are in better form currently. The German giants dismantled a strong Juventus side and won the tie 4-0 on aggregate.
Barcelona on the other hand barely made it through past PSG in the last round. In fact, until Messi came on in the second half, PSG looked the likelier side to qualify for the semi-final. In the end, Pedro’s goal proved to be the decider and although Barcelona were held to a draw in the both the legs, they qualified through based on the away goal rule.
It is tough to predict the outcome of this fixture, but Bayern certainly look more solid at the back than Barcelona and that might tilt the balance in the favour of the German side. Incidentally, Bayern hold a better record of Barcelona historically as well – Barcelona have won just once against Bayern in their previous six meetings, while the German club has managed to get three victories.
Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid CF
While the first semi-final is a clash between the league leaders, the second semi-final sees both the second placed teams of those leagues go head-to-head. Both these teams have had a similar season so far – they have faltered in the domestic league, while they have performed brilliantly in Europe. Dortmund and Real Madrid are the defending champions of Bundesliga and La Liga respectively and both of them are on the verge of losing that title (Dortmund have already lost it).
Jurgen Klopp’s side has won over the neutrals in the past two seasons, due to their brilliant footballing philosophy, extraordinary home support and financial stability – very few clubs can claim to have all these together. But they were given a run for their money by Malaga in the epic second leg clash in the quarter finals. It was one of the most exciting matches of this tournament so far and Dortmund required two late goals to scrape past Malaga. In fact, it is matches like these which almost hint that it might be written in the stars for Dortmund to win the Champions League this time around.
But first they must face Real Madrid. The Spanish side also faced a brave fightback from Galatasaray in the second leg. Although Ronaldo gave them an early lead, Galatasaray scored three goals in a space of 15 minutes in the second half and it required another goal from Ronaldo to ensure their progress into the next round. Jose Mourinho will be worried about the performance of his defence in this match, although Sergio Ramos was missing in this fixture.
Mourinho is desperate to win the Champions League with Real Madrid, having already conceded the league this season. With rumours speculating about his future at the club, he might just want to sign off in style.
Mark your calendars
FC Bayern München (GER) v FC Barcelona (ESP) – 1st leg 23rd April, 2nd leg 1st May
Borussia Dortmund (GER) v Real Madrid CF (ESP) – 1st leg 24th April, 2nd leg 30th April
Fenerbahce SK (TUR) v SS Benfica (POR) – 1st leg 25th April, 2nd leg 2nd May
FC Basel (SUI) v Chelsea FC (ENG) – 1st leg 25th April, 2nd leg 2nd May