The UEFA Champions League Semifinal: What You Can Expect

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Who will advance?

The draws for the UCL semi finals have been done and we’ve seen the last 4 teams in the competition paired for the semi final games.

We will see 3-time winners and Italian champions-elect Juventus square up against an old enemy in the form of 10 time winners and defending champions Real Madrid (expect a lot of records to be sang out during both lega of this game). The other tie pits 4-time winners Barcelona against 5-time winners Bayern Munich (both coaches will most likely request the video of these two’s last two meetings).

The UCL last 4 paints a picture of dominance. 3 of the last 4 (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich) have won the title in the last 4 years and have been in the UCL semis at least 4 times in the last 5 years. Indeed one of them has made it to the finals in the past 4 years. Real Madrid are the defending champions. Bayern Munich were winners in 2013 and Barcelona were winners in 2011.

Juventus appear to be the odd team out, their last semi final appearance coming as far back as in 2003 and their last win as far back as 1996. Indeed fans of the other 3 teams were probably hoping to draw Juventus though I’m not sure their players and technical staff share that sentiment.

The draws also set up reunions of a sort. Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola is going back to his old team Barcelona for the first time as Bayern manager. He led them to 2 UCL titles in 2009 & 2011. Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is once again returning to his old team Juventus, not sure they’ll have too many fond memories of him as his Milan team denied them the title in the 2003 final in Edinburgh. Madrid old boy Alvaro Moratta will be returning to the Bernabeu for the first time. Barcelona old boy Thiago will also be making his first trip back to Camp Nou.

These games will be about attacking talent and defensive discipline. Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern have possibly the 3 best attacks in Europe and Juventus aren’t exactly slouches when it comes to attack. On the flipside, Juventus seem to have reinvented catenaccio and have one of the meanest defences in Europe.

Key Matchups

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Juventus – Madrid
The last time these two teams met which was last season, the Juventus defense just couldn’t live with Gareth Bale so I’m expecting more of the same and that means a Bale – Chiellini/Evra battle. In midfield I expect a running battle between Vidal-Marchisio-Pirlo & Modric-Kroos-Rodriguez. Tevez-Pepe/Ramos/Varane will be another interesting matchup.

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Barcelona – Bayern
The last time these two teams met it was a blowout, some sort of outclassing in all ways, with the Bavarians advancing courtesy of a 7-0 aggregate win. Expecting this tie to be a little tighter, Barcelona will have Lionel Messi this time as well as Luis Suarez & Neymar Jr. The MSN combo as some people refer to them should be able to make the aggregate scoreline more respectable this time. Bayern will probably be deploying the two arch tormentors of Barcelona two years ago, Thomas Muller & Arjen Robben.

Rakitic-Busquets-Iniesta v Thiago-Lahm -Alonso,
Robben vs Alba,
Neymar vs Rafinha,
Suarez vs Boateng
Lewandowski vs Pique will be the key matchups.
Messi & Muller will tend to drift and do damage all over the pitch

I expect Madrid and Bayern to advance to the finals.

This Week’s Real MVP: Pep the Philosopher

The man who, according to Robben, calls some of his players up in the midnight to talk… wait for it… football! Maybe he loves football. Maybe he’s obsessed.

His side surprisingly went 1 – 3 down to Porto in the first leg and he (majorly) was tasked with the job of getting the German machines back into the competition; a machine that has made it some sort of tradition to always appear in the Champions League semis. Huge task right? Try the Professor.

In the first 35 minutes of the game, Pep’s boys had already put four in the opponent’s onion bag and had registered 8+ attempts. It was some sort of assault; an early assault on Porto to keep them busy defending while they were busy attacking. By the end of the first half, Bayern were already 4 goals up, leading the game 5 – 3 on aggregate.

I’m of the opinion that he watched the first leg of their game against Porto and used the tactics that beat his team lost to turn the game on its head. In other words, he beat his counterpart Lopentegui at a game; a tactical victory.

Alle begrüßen den Philosophen! which in english means All hail the Philosopher!

‘Diego Simeone Needs More Experience’ and Other Things I Learnt From The Madrid Derby

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Happy Night

Second leg. Real Madrid’s backyard. They had not won a game against their 6-miles-apart city rivals in matches. Their regulars were out injured, one suspended. They needed a miracle. They made their miracle happen and they qualified. Here’s what I learnt:

Atletico Madrid Got It All Wrong
The team was playing to one man’s instructions, Diego Simeone, who got evdry other move completely wrong. His team preferred to watch Real dominate possession, come at them at will and in the end soak up.the pressure, a job they were doing well until they got their hearts broken. Yes they defended well but they rarely attacked (until Madrid scored). He (Simeone) made awkward substitutions and failed to control his players.

One Team Wanted Qualification More
That team was Real Madrid. They were dominant. Handicapped (missing their regulars) but effective. They kept asking questions of the Atletico defense time after time after time. They switcjed play from left to right and back trying to find a way to kill off their opponents on a stage where it mattered the most. They did, after 23 attempts (8 on goal). Not exactly in style but then again, that’s what champions do.

Experience Won
It can be said that the more experienced coach taught his less experienced counterpart a lesson: experience, most times, count. While Simeone was being overly dramatic, as usual, Ancelotti seemed to be calm, as usual too. His BBC channel had been scrambled but he had other ideas. Chicharito and Ramos he picked as his jokers. The former was to sneak up on the A. Madrid defenders regularly, take advantage and play like his former student, Inzaghi. The latter, ironically, was given a free role in which he was simply superb. These two players played pivotal roles: one covering a distance of 11km during the game (the second highest) and the other scoring the all important goal that put them through. So much for being experienced.

The Weekend’s Real MVP: No. 20

After a weekend of action, I look back and try to pick out the stand out performers of the weekend.

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Make that 20!

Sergio Kun Aguero
After a contender for ‘Own Goal of the Season’ put Man. City in the lead against West Ham, Aguero scored another to give Man. City a 2 – 0 win. That goal was his 20th of the Premier League season and he was the first to get to that milestone. Well done Sergio!

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Harry Kane celebrates his goal

Harry Kane
Tottenham’s Golden Boy got a goal in their 1 – 3 win over Newcastle. His did not cone until late in the game but it was a well deservef one as it made him the second player to reach the 20-goal mark in the league.

P.S: That was his 30th of the season

Saved By The Ref!

Stalemate

Stalemate

Inter Milan and AC Milan played out a goalless draw in the Milan derby but it was not a dull one. Up to three goals were scored but none was acknowledged by the centre referee all thanks to the linesmen that stole the show.

Inter Milan will be particularly mad at the officiating of the game as, at one point in the game, Mexes scored in his own net but still, the ref did not count it! saying there had been a foul earlier in the run up to the goal.

Inter would have stolen the show and earned the city’s bragging right but the refs said no!