Real Madrid, Bayern Munich paired in Champions League semifinal
Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, the record European champions and defending champions respectively, were drawn against each other in the Champions League semifinals in the usually waffle-infested draw ceremony on Friday. That means Atletico Madrid and Chelsea face off in the other last-four tie.
The first legs will take place on April 22 and 23 with the return games occurring on April 29 and 30, which will all be live on FOX Sports 1.
Many had hoped that the Real-Bayern contest between two of the kings of the continent would be saved for the final. And any illusion that UEFA fixes these things in order to produce the most appealing games was shattered when these names were pulled out of the little balls first.
Real destroyed all in their path leading up to this round, going undefeated in the group stage with a +15 goal difference and dispatching Schalke 04 by a 9-2 aggregate score in the round of 16. After battering last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund 3-0 in the first leg of the quarterfinals in Madrid, the return game seemed but a formality. Without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men wobbled in Dortmund. They were down 2-0 by the half, and had Henrikh Mkhitaryan been a bit more clinical with the sizable chances he was afforded, it could have been evened up.
But as it happened, they never did, and so Real faces a German team for the third consecutive round in defending champions Bayern Munich in hopes of finally winning that 10th European crown. If the Bavarians were imperious last season, in which they played and won their second consecutive final, they have kicked it up another gear this time around. Under Pep Guardiola, the man behind Barca’s total dominance of the turn of the decade, a well-oiled machine has come to run even smoother still.
The Germans rampaged through the group stage as well, not dropping their final game to Manchester City until long after they had qualified for the knockout rounds. There, they set about eliminating two other English clubs. They glided by Arsenal in the round of 16 and then dispatched Manchester United in a more challenging contest. Still, watching them this year, you get the unsettling sense that Bayern haven’t quite bothered to run at a full gallop yet, settling for a trot that nobody else can keep up with. And they will be the favorites to make it three finals in a row and their fourth in five years in Lisbon on May 24.
The other matchup, between two tactical masterminds in managers Diego Simeone for Atleti and Jose Mourinho for the Blues, also throws up a significant wrinkle. Atletico’s star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is on loan from Chelsea, maturing in Spain until Petr Cech is ready to cede the job in London. He will hypothetically face the club which owns his rights, even though this is his third consecutive season in Madrid.
Ever since this matchup became a possibility, rumors have swirled on whether the loan contract includes a clause forbidding Courtois from facing Chelsea in a meaningful game. That doesn’t appear to be the case, and he took the field with Atletico against Chelsea in the 2013 European Super Cup. But there had been reports that the Spaniards would have to pay Chelsea a hefty fee for Courtoisâs inclusion in this game. Further complicating the matter is that Cech doesnât appear ready to be replaced and Atletico are hopeful of retaining Courtois for another season. Chelsea have already said that Courtois is free to play again them but have not mentioned the penalty clause so the final word may rest with UEFA, which has already made its feelings clear that Courtois shoudl play.
This will-he-won’t-he goalkeeper drama will surely direct much of the narrative over the coming week. But that should not be allowed to obscure the prospect of a most interesting matchup. Atletico deservedly eliminated Barcelona in the semifinals with their unimpeachable defense and shrewd counter-attacking stampedes. And they plainly outplayed the Catalans in the second leg.
Moneyed Chelsea, meanwhile, outmaneuvered moneyed Paris Saint-Germain in the battle of nouveaux riches. The Parisians appeared to have the tie locked away after the first leg, which they won 3-1 at home. But in London, Chelsea pressured their largely ineffectual opponents, who were without injured star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and got the liberating 2-0 winner from Demba Ba in the 87th minute, which sent them through on away goals.
Meanwhile, in the UEFA Europa League, which is also in the semifinals stage, Sevilla drew Valencia in an all-Spanish affair. Benfica was paired Juventus in the other semifinal. They will play their legs on April 24 and May 1 - live on FOX Sports 1. Their final will take place at Juventus Stadium in Turin on May 14.