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UEFA Champions League Preview

The semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition gets underway with four teams battling it out.
The semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition gets underway with four teams battling it out.
And then there were four! The semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition gets underway with four teams battling it out. Spanish rivals, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, square off in the first of the two semi-final clashes. In La Liga, Los Blancos lead Atleti by 10 points. Zinedine Zidane’s men are unbeaten against Diego Simeone’s ruthless Atletico side this season. In Wednesday’s fixture, Europe’s tidiest and most well-organized defence will face arguably their biggest test yet as Juventus take on a young, exciting and fearless Monaco outfit. Real Madrid will be looking to make history and become the first side to pick up back-to-back UEFA Champions League trophies. It won’t be easy considering the other three teams left in the competition.

Tuesday 2 May

8/10 Real Madrid | Draw 5/2 | Atletico Madrid 32/10 (20:45)

Spain will come to a standstill once again as 11-time winners, Real Madrid, host their crosstown rivals, Atletico Madrid. This tie was inevitable in the competition with the Madrid sides facing each other in the last three editions, all of which Real Madrid came out on top, including two finals.

Zinedine Zidane’s side are the only team left in the competition that finished runner-up in Group F. Madrid were then pitted against Napoli, who they punished 6-2 on aggregate. Onto the quarter-finals where Los Blancos then faced Bayern Munich. A few controversial decisions went in favour of Zidane’s men which helped them to prevail in extra-time to finish the tie off with a 6-3 aggregate scoreline.

Atletico’s run wasn’t as tough as their rivals, but some cagey opposition couldn’t stop Los Rojiblancos in the way of reaching their third semi-final in four seasons. Atleti topped their group, which consisted of Bayern Munich, FC Rostov and PSV. Diego Simeone’s side then claimed a 4-2 aggregate win over Bayer Leverkusen. In the build-up to the semi-final, Los Colchoneros tamed English Foxes, Leicester City, to end their fairytale run.

Real Madrid have set an astonishing record, becoming the first side to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League seven consecutive times. Atletico will be well-aware of the threat that Real pose after they were smashed 3-0 earlier in the season, courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick. At the Santiago Bernabeu, Simeone’s men earned a share of the spoils through a late Antoine Griezmann goal.

The two players have been unstoppable at times for their respective clubs. Ronaldo, who became the first player to reach 100 UEFA Champions League goals (the same amount as Atletico Madrid in the history of the Champions League), is also the leading scorer in the Madrid Derby with 18 goals. Griezmann, who reached the 100 milestone for La Liga goals a fortnight ago, has been a runner-up to Ronaldo too many times for the Frenchman’s liking. The Atletico star is the only hope of breaking the duopoly between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

This has all the makings of a final. Real have had the upper hand in cup competitions, while Atletico have somewhat dominated in league meetings. Los Blancos seemed to turn that feat around in the league and I’m backing Atleti to knock out their rivals over two legs. For the first leg tie, simply back the draw at 5/2.

Wednesday 3 May

2/1 Monaco | 24/10 | Juventus 5/4 (20:45)

In all honesty, once the semi-final draw was made, this was the clash I looked forward to the most. This is the perfect example of attack against defence. Monaco’s electrifying attack will face their fiercest test yet as they host rock-solid Juventus in the first leg of the semi-finals. Monaco have scored three goals in all four of their knockout games, while Juventus are yet to concede in the latter stages. So something’s got to give.

Monaco are seen as outsiders in the competition, but after they topped a group consisting of Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham and CSKA Moscow, and still smashed their way past Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, who can doubt them against anyone now?

Juve have been all about shutting out their opposition this season. The Old Lady have let in just two goals in the Champions League this campaign – the best in the tournament. It also needs to be said that Massimiliano Allegri’s side have not conceded from open play in the Champions League. The Bianconeri beat Sevilla, Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb to top spot in Group H. Allegri’s men then saw off FC Porto and Barcelona with quite some ease, winning both ties 3-0 on aggregate.

This tie will also see two of Europe’s brightest young talents face off. Kylian Mbappe of Monaco and Paulo Dybala of Juve are tipped to battle it out for future FIFA Ballon d’Or’s to come. Mbappe, who has been likened to French legend, Thierry Henry, has proven that he can become one of the world’s best players. His ability to pull wide and make dashing runs behind the defenders make it extremely difficult to mark him. His link-up play with Radamel Falcao give me flashes of a partnership similar to Henry and Dennis Bergkamp once upon a time at Arsenal. What stands out most is Mbappe’s pace. If you blink, you just might miss him.

Dybala, being a left-footed Argentinian, has been compared to Barcelona magician, Lionel Messi. The Old Lady have been so resolute in defence, that some have even forgotten that their attacking threat is just as frightening. Dybala is a complete forward that has a wicked shot in his left boot, dazzling skills, and strength that you wouldn’t expect given his small size. Few better in world football hold the ball up better than Gonzalo Higuain. The lethal Argentine finisher holds off the ball to free his fellow countryman and also the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado.

Reading the transfer speculation that’s doing the rounds, Monaco should have a complete new team next season. From Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe to Thomas Lemar and Bernado Silva, every team wants Monaco’s players.

If I had to pick a winner over two legs, it would be the Bianconeri. The defensive duo of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini proved against Messi that they can shut out the best of players in the world. So I’m expecting a final between Juventus and Atletico. That said, back another draw here and for Juve to come good in front of their home crowd.

DOUBLE @ 11/1
Real Madrid vs Atletico Draw 5/2
Monaco vs Juve Draw 24/10

Written by Jesse Nagel