Real Madrid face their cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League

The Champions League always throws in some interesting encounters towards its business end, and this season’s semi-final lineup is far from disappointing. The semi-final draw has pitted Real Madrid against Atletico Madrid in the race to Cardiff.

Both teams know a fair bit about the other as they have had some intriguing battles in the past, both in league as well as cup competitions. Real have faced their city rivals in the competition for each of the last three years and have gained an aggregate victory over them on each occasion.

Also, with home advantage, they will go into this game as favourites, but will take nothing for granted as Atletico can trouble even the best of teams on their day, and would love to send shivers down the spins of their Madrid rivals.

Real go into this game on the back of a narrow 2-1 victory over Valencia in La Liga. Left-back Marcelo, who has a flair for finding the back of the net, netted a late winner to seal the points for Los Blancos.

He is certainly going to be a key component down Real Madrid’s left as he stretches the play and contributes in both thirds equally and with great vigor. The Brazilian is undoubtedly one of manager Zinedine Zidane’s first names on the teamsheet.

Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo (C) kneels at the end of the Spanish league football match Real Sporting de Gijon vs Real Madrid CF at El Molinon stadium in Gijon on April 15, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)

Real Madrid’s Brazilian defender Marcelo (C) kneels at the end of the Spanish league football match Real Sporting de Gijon vs Real Madrid CF at El Molinon stadium in Gijon on April 15, 2017. (Photo Courtesy: MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)

On the other hand, Atletico are on the back of a resounding 5-0 win against Las Palmas on Thursday – a perfect way to go into their most important game of the season. They dominated from start to finish, and would be looking to do more of the same against Real.

However, given their opponent’s strength in attack, Los Rojiblancos could sit deep, maintain a compact shape, and hit Real on the break. They have conceded just three goals in their last 12 games in all competition, and will be extremely hard to break down.

Team News and Tactics

Real Madrid

Zidane stated that Raphael Varane is fit to play this one, and is expected to start in defence along with Sergio Ramos. Portuguese defender Pepe continues to be ruled out, in what could be his final Champions League season.

On the right side of the back four, Dani Carvajal is expected to start while Marcelo fill take up his stations at left-back. The ever present midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric are likely to be deployed.

In the final third, Zidane will be bereft of the services of Gareth Bale, who has endured an injury-laden season. In his stead, Spanish wizard Isco is likely to come in and join Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the attack.

Real Madrid Probable XI: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid

The visitors have injury concerns of their own, particularly on the defensive side of things as Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko are both ruled out, and Jose Gimenez picked up an injury over the weekend.

This could see Stefan Savic deployed as a right-back, with Filipe Luis playing on the left. Jan Oblak will start in goal with a rather unfamiliar centre-back pairing of Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez ahead of him.

In midfield, Saul Niguez and Gabi are expected to operate centrally while Koke and Nicholas Gaitan will play on either flanks. Antoine Griezmann will lead the line for Los Rojiblancos, with Kevin Gameiro playing as his talisman.

Atletico Madrid Probable XI: Oblak; Savic, Godin, Hernandez, Luis; Gaitan, Gabi, Niguez, Koke; Griezmann, Gameiro.

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid are through to their seventh consecutive UEFA Champions League semi-final, a competition record. It will be their 12th semi-final appearance in total, also a record, one more than Barcelona.
  • Los Merengues have won five Champions League semi-finals – and went on to win the trophy on each occasion.
  • Real have beaten their rivals on all three previous occasions in the competition, including in two finals in 2014 and 2016 as well as a quarter-final in between.
  • Atletico Madrid have kept nine cleansheets in their last 13 matches in all competitions.
  • They are also are the lowest scoring team in this season’s Champions League amongst the four semi-finalists (13 goals in 10 games).

Player to watch out for

Antoine Griezmann

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 08: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico de Madrid scores their opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 8, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

MADRID, SPAIN – APRIL 08: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico de Madrid scores their opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 8, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo Courtesy: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

This is a huge game for the Atletico star who has watched his side narrowly missed out on the Champions League for two seasons. The onus will be on the Rojiblancos forward to get the goals against a resolute Real attack.

The French striker grabbed a goal the last time the two sides met, and will be fancying his chances to snatch an away goal for his side.

Prediction

Real Madrid 2-1 Atletico Madrid

Real go into this game as sight favourites and may just edge it, given the strength they possess in their attack. The likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco, all have a goal in them, while James and Marco Asensio could come off the bench to wreak havoc in the opposition defence.

Also, with Atletico short of quality at the back, Ronaldo & co. will fancy their chances, and hope to give their team a lead going into the second leg.

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