Ten-time European champions Real Madrid will be sweating on the fitness of their formidable attacking duo as they prepare to lock horns with semi final debutants Manchester City on Tuesday.
A day later, Pep Guardiola’s troops face a daunting task of breaching Europe’s sturdiest defence when they take the field against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. The winner of the two semi finals will square off against each other at Milan’s San Siro Stadium on May 28. Here is a look ahead to the first legs of the semi final clashes between four of Europe’s most iconic football clubs.
Manchester City vs Real Madrid
Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City are in uncharted territory. Earlier this month, City overcame French Champions Paris Saint-Germain to seal their spot in the last four of Europe’s premier football competition for the first time in the club’s history. A two legged semi final triumph against Europe’s most successful club will send the Citizens into dreamland and cement Pellegrini’s legacy as the club’s most successful manager.
The tie assumes special significance for former Real Madrid manager Pellegrini, who was unceremoniously sacked by club President Florentino Perez after just one season in charge of the club in 2010. Real Madrid achieved a club record 96 points under Pellegrini that season [highest points total that club had ever achieved in a La Liga season up to that point], but still finished 2nd behind Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
The return of Kevin De Bruyne from injury has been instrumental in charting City’s path into the semi finals of the Champions League. The Belgian winger scored a goal in both legs against Paris Saint-Germain to lead his team to a 3-2 aggregate win over the French champions. His phenomenal partnership with Sergio Aguero upfront will be crucial if City are to breach Real Madrid’s fledgling back-line on Tuesday.
Spanish giants Real Madrid overcame a major scare against Wolfsburg in the last round to seal their place in the semi finals of the Champions League. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick at the Santiago Bernabeu saw the Los Blancos stage a remarkable European comeback after Wolfsburg had registered a shock 2-0 win at the Volkswagon arena in the first leg.
Though Real Madrid will be favorites to progress to the final in Milan in a month’s time given their opponent’s inexperience at this level, injuries to Ronaldo and Benzema have given Manchester City a glimmer of hope. Ronaldo picked up a minor thigh strain during Madrid’s 3-0 Villarreal last Wednesday and was rested for the weekend’s clash at the Vallecas by manager Zinedine Zidane. Benzema limped off in the first half during Real Madrid’s spectacular come from behind 3-2 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Ronaldo and Benzema, the club’s top 2 goal scorers this season, will be hoping to return to full fitness and inspire their team to a victory at the Etihad stadium on Tuesday.
First Leg Prediction: Manchester City 2-2 Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid vs Bayern Munich
Diego Simeone’s battle hardened Atletico Madrid side overcame the odds to record a 3-2 aggregate win over reigning European champions FC Barcelona in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Goals from Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann sealed Atletico’s progress to the last four of the tournament at the expense of the Catalans for the second time in three seasons.
The Los Rojiblancos are one step closer to setting up a repeat of the 2013-14 Champions League final with their cross town rivals Real Madrid in Milan next month. However, Pep Guardiola’s mighty Bayern Munich stand in their way. Atletico will be without the services of their talismanic centre-back Diego Godin during their first leg clash against Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon. Godin injured his hamstring during Atletico’s 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao at the Nou San Mames on Wednesday.
Atletico Madrid, who have conceded just 2 goals at the Calderon in the Champions League all season, will be hoping to keep out Bayern’s formidable attacking triumvirate of Lewandowski, Muller and Douglas Costa. Upfront, Fernando Torres will look to continue his astonishing goal scoring form that has seen him find the back of the net in 5 of his last 6 appearances for the Madrid club. He is expected to be flanked on either side by Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
Josep Guardiola is on the verge of winning his 3rd consecutive German Bundesliga title and is one step away from winning his 2nd DFB Pokal trophy. However, it is the much coveted Champions League trophy that Guardiola truly desires. Despite Bayern Munich’s domestic dominance under the Spaniard over the past 3 seasons, many will brand the Catalan’s tenure in Bavaria a failure if he is unable to add European silverware to the trophy cabinet at the Allianz arena come the end of the season.
After battling past Italian champions Juventus in the Round of 16, the German giants comfortably overcame the challenge of Benfica in the quarter finals. At the back, Joshua Kimmich and Javi Martinez have formed an effective partnership in central defence in the absence of Jerome Boateng. Arturo Vidal’s late season burst and Franck Ribery’s return from injury have added a new dimension to Bayern’s attack in the latter stages of the competition.
However, what makes this high stakes clash truly mouthwatering is the intriguing tactical battle between two of Europe’s brightest managers – Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone. A defeat at the hands of a Spanish club in the semi final stage of the competition for Guardiola would leave his Bayern Munich legacy forever tarnished.
First Leg Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1-1 Bayern Munich