After a season full of matches, including the inevitable exits by my favorite sides Ajax and Arsenal, only four teams remain in the UEFA Champions League (UCL). The results of the post-quarterfinals draw see Manchester City square off with Real Madrid, while Real’s cross-town rivals Atlético Madrid will face Bayern Munich for a berth in the final in Milan. So, let’s fire up the UCL anthem and take a look at the matchups.
UEFA Champions League Semifinals Preview
Manchester City v Real Madrid
Real Madrid, ten-time winners of the UCL and its predecessors, were drawn against semifinal debutantes Manchester City. To get here, the Citizens won their group, besting Juventus, Sevilla, and Borussia Mönchengladbach, then bested Dynamo Kyiv and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in knockout rounds. Real Madrid’s trip to the semifinals also involved PSG, who finished second behind the Spaniards in their qualifying group. Madrid’s group also included Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmö (victims of an 8-0 thrashing). Real dispatched Roma before surviving a strong quarterfinal challenge from VfL Wolfsburg.
While Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo is coming off a hat trick against Wolfsburg, he’s only one of the storylines coming into this pair of fixtures. City’s boss Manuel Pellegrini is on his way out, with Pep Guardiola having inked a deal to take over in Manchester after he finishes up his work in Germany (more on that later, though). Pellegrini spent a brief period of time working in Madrid, ultimately making way for Jose Mourinho.
While Pellegrini claims he holds no grudge, one can expect he would enjoy an opportunity to exact a measure of revenge against his former employers. Real Madrid have shown a bit of vulnerability on the road this UCL campaign, playing to a scoreless draw at PSG, fending off a late rally by Shakhtar to win 3-4, and dropping a 2-0 result to Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals. City have been solid at home, losing only to Juventus (1-2) and drawing with Dynamo when a scoreless draw saw them through comfortably after having soundly beaten the Ukrainian side 1-3 in the reverse fixture. Given that, City have an excellent chance to pile on the pressure before the return leg in Madrid. They’ll need to do that, because Real have not conceded a goal in a UCL home match this year.
Prediction: City manage a 1-1 draw at home, but find the Bernabéu to be a puzzle they can’t crack, dropping a 2-0 result away (potentially larger, depending on the fitness level of Vincent Kompany). Real Madrid advance 3-1 on aggregate.
Atlético Madrid v Bayern Munich
The other two semifinalists are also group winners. Atlético topped their group, besting Benfica, Galatasaray, and Astana, then defeated PSV (on penalties after 210 minutes of scoreless football) and Barcelona to get to the semifinals. The German side finished atop a group that included Arsenal, Olympiacos, and Dinamo Zagreb, then needed extra time in the second leg to get past Juventus, following that up by edging Benfica on aggregate.
I’ve already mentioned that Pep Guardiola will be coaching in Manchester next season, meaning that his spell with the Bavarian giants is coming to a close. He hasn’t won the UCL in Madrid, and I suspect he’d like to change that before boarding a jet for Manchester. Atlético are removed from the Guardiola / Pellegrini coaching rotation, meaning they only have to deal with their own coaching drama.
Coaching distractions aside, Bayern have a comfortable seven-point cushion atop the Bundesliga, while Atlético are level on points with Barcelona in La Liga (though a +43 goal difference is good enough only for second place to their rivals from Catalonia, who are +73 on the season – but out of Europe courtesy Atlético). Assuming Simeone fancies trying to win both trophies, he’ll have to field full-strength squads in La Liga and against Bayern. The Bavarians, on the other hand, will likely be able to rest a player or two in their league match against Mönchengladbach (though it’s not always a good idea to count one’s trophies before they’re presented) that falls between the legs of this semifinal pairing. Atlético have conceded only one goal in the knockout phase, while Bayern have found themselves outscoring their opponents. As stout as the Spaniards’ defense has been, they’re not invulnerable at home, having lost to Benfica and been held by PSV. Atlético need to keep a clean sheet, but Bayern have failed to score only once in this year’s tournament (against a then-desperate Arsenal side).
Prediction: Atlético shut down one offensive juggernaut in beating Barcelona, but I think they’ll be overmatched against Bayern. Bayern win 1-2 away, and then expand the aggregate result with a 3-1 win in Germany, advancing 5-2.