An enthralling and exciting semi-final slam awaits us. Four European giants, who play some of the most brilliant football ever seen throughout, battle it out for the chance, the opportunity to take the most prestigious club competition on the continent. Who are the favorites? Who are the underdogs? Here’s our world-class (somewhat) preview of what potentially awaits us all.
Bayern Munich – Barcelona
Bayern Munich have turned things around this season in grand style. It has even been said that Pep Guardiola might have nothing left to achieve by the time Jupp’ Osram’ Heynckes quits the Bavarians. News coming out of Germany this morning say that Mario Gotze is switching allegiance next season.
His next destination? The Allianz Arena to join his Nationalelf teammates, Neuer, Muller, Lahm, Schweini etc in what will be perhaps the best squad of players even assembled in Munich. The 6-1 mauling of Hannover 96 at the weekend was too good to be true. The Roten have scored for fun from the beginning of the season and only Arsenal have beaten them since the turn of the year. Against Wolfsburg in the Pokal Semis, Bayern also scored six and conceded one-a beauty from Deigo Ribas.
These goals galore have been done without the bulk of their first team players. The likes of ‘EL Conquistador’ Pizarro who has been described as the best ’3RD STRIKER’ in the world by many, Jerome Boateng who has dropped to the bench since the start of the season, Xherdan Shaqiri, the diminutive Swiss winger, Arjen Robben who has found himself among the starters recently because of Toni Krooss’ layoff, etc have come in and done a great job. The Bundesliga champions are battle-ready for any team. Even Barcelona do not scare them considering the form they are in presently.
Barcelona are one of the favourites for Champions League glory. But before they secure a Wembley date against either Real Madrid or Dortmund, Bayern Munich must be stopped. However arduous it seems to be, the Blaugrana are unfazed by the challenge in front of them. A late 1-0 win over Levante nonetheless, the Spanish champions-elect have the ability to unsettle any team.
Tito Vilanova and his coaching staff are sweating over the fitness of star man, Lionel Messi. The Argentine has been sidelined for the last three League games and only came on versus PSG because it was absolutely expedient. Whether he can feature from the start today is something the management have kept close to their chest. If Messi does not play, the task will be made all the more difficult.
Barcelona have stars like Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Villa, Busquets, and Pedro, but without Messi, they are not so special. Forget the 5-0 success over an already condemned Mallorca. Carles Puyol and Javier ‘Jefecito’ Mascherano are currently sidelined through injury.
That leaves gaps in the Catalan rear guard which is likely to be filled by the returning Eric Abidal whose story has been one of greatness and determination. The Frenchman completed 90 minutes against Levante on Saturday. His height and balance will give him an edge over Adriano because of the giant nature of the Bayern point men.
Marc Batra can also line up alongside Pique if Abidal is not trusted enough to carry the responsibility.
BAYERN: Neuer, Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba, Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Robben, Muller, Ribery, GOMEZ.
Lahm and Schweini return to the starting eleven after being left out of the team that won emphatically at Hannover. Mario Mandzukic is suspended for this fixture, so the other Mario, Gomez, will step in his shoes. Javi Martinez has been vocal in his praise of his Spanish friends at Barcelona. Paying homage to Xavi and Busquets especially. He must perform every well to also earn their eulogies. Arjen Robben has a point or two to prove tonight. His mistakes cost Bayern dear in last year’s final. He must make amends to get back into the fans hearts in a positive light.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, as usual, has a big role to play tonight. The German machine kept Andrea Pirlo quiet in the two matches against Juventus. A similar showing is expected of him when Xavi steps foot on the Inflatable boat in a few hours. Lahm, Gustavo and Dante will all miss the 2nd leg at the Nou Camp if they are cautioned in this game.
BARCA: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Batra/Abidal/Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa.
For all of Christian Tello’s runs, goals, and assists in the last couple of weeks, it is unlikely that he will start tonight. The experienced heads of Villa and Pedro will be preferred to the youthful exuberance of the pacy winger. Messi could return to the team and Sergio Busquets has shaken off a hernia problem to face the Bavarian giants.
It is in defence that the problem lies. Bartra, Adriano or Abidal? The answer lies with Tito and Jordi Roura. Gerard Pique was uttering some annoying things against Germany in the build up to his great game. He has to do the talking on the pitch tonight.
Real Madrid – Borussia Dortmund
The Schwarzgelben might have shot themselves in the foot with the shocking news that Mario Gotze is set to join arch-rivals, Bayern Munich in the summer for 37 Million Euros. However tempting the offer may be/or have been, Germany’s Lionel Messi who says he’d rather be called the CR7 of DIE MANNSCAFT, should not be allowed to go for any price.
The Signa Iduna landlords are becoming a major force in Europe and to move further, their best players must stay put. That is beside the point. Some of immediate greater importance is before them. The visit of high flying Real Madrid who are so willing to win their 10th European trophy popularly called ‘LA DECIMA’ by the Merengues faithful.
Borussia Dortmund do not give a hoot about Real Madrid’s quest to win the Champions League – they harbour their own ambitions, too. The Borussens have relinquished their Bundesliga crown to Bayern already and are looking for silverware this season. A 2nd European triumph, 16 long years after the first, will be a fantastic accomplishment. Jurgen Klopp has been bullish in his assertions that BVB can do the impossible this term. No one can doubt the quality they possess.
Robert Lewandowski cannot stop scoring. If the Pole scores in his next 5 league games, he will break Gerd Muller’s long standing record of scoring in 16 consecutive League games Mats Hummels has returned to full fitness and is poised to start alongside Neven Subotic in defence, leaving Felipe Santana on the sidelines. The Brazilian will be infuriated by this. After all, it is because of him that Dortmund are in the semi-finals. Rolls Reus scored against Real at the Bernabeu in their group encounter and can repeat the same feat if given the opportunity.
Real Madrid have a few injury problems. The war against Betis was won not without a few casualties. Benzema and Modric picked up minor injuries, while Marcelo was stretchered out of the pitch following a hamstring issue. Varane, Coentrao and Sergio Ramos are all likely to return to the starting 11 tomorrow. Di Maria and Xabi Alonso are also set to take their places in midfield and Pipita Higuain will lead the line with CR7 as usual, carrying the team’s hopes and aspirations.
Jose Mourinho has to decide yet again if Iker Casillas will return between the sticks or continue with the very impressive Diego Lopez. He wants to win the Champions League at all costs after three consecutive semi-final appearances. Dortmund stand in the way, just like Bayern last time out and Barcelona two seasons prior. The Portuguese is set to leave the Spanish capital at the end of the season. What better way to sign off than with a record breaking 10th UCL title.
Real will not look beyond this game despite the capital derby showdown at the weekend which will go a long way to decide who finishes as La Liga runners-up. The’whits’ must do better than their last showing in Rhine-Westphalia. The 2-1 loss was deserved by the Ruhr giants and they almost won at the Bernabeu until a late Ozil free-kick sealed a 2-2 draw for the hosts.
Tomorrow night, both sides will attempt to get an early goal and ultimately secure an unassailable advantage before the 2nd leg in Spain.
BORUSSIA DORTMUND: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer, Bender, Gundogan, Kuba, ROLLS REUS, Gotze, Lewandowski.
Lewandowski has shaken off a minor problem to play in this game. Despite Gotze’s imminent departure, the playmaker will do everything humanly possible to destroy Real Madrid. Captain Sebastian Kehl who just signed a contract extension will start on the bench with Bender taking his place.
REAL MADRID: Lopez, Ramos, Pepe, Varane, Coentrao, Khedira, Alonso, Di Maria, Ozil, CR7, Higuain.
The back four will feature Ramos-Pepe and Varane from the start for the first time this season in Europe. Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira return to their adopted country. This time around, not to represent them, but to stop one of its leading teams from emerging victorious tomorrow.
CRISTIANO RONALDO is the top European goal scorer this season with 11 goals. Two more and he will reach the 50-goal milestone in the Champions League. He has 50 already this season in all competitions and 196 in Real colours.
Written by Ohiskaka Eboreime
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