Spanish duo on comeback quest
Edged out on their respective visits to Chelsea and Bayern Munich last week, Barcelona and Real Madrid both have work to do if they are to set up an all-Spanish UEFA Champions League final in Munich next month.
Nevertheless, their English and German visitors can expect to do plenty of defending in two intriguing games that bring together this season’s top six scorers in the competition: Lionel Messi (14 goals), Mario Gomez (12), Cristiano Ronaldo (8), Karim Benzema (7), and Didier Drogba and Jose Maria Callejon (5).
No fewer than 18 players are on yellow cards going into the two showdowns, which means they will need to watch their step if they are to remain eligible for the final. Bayern have most to lose, with seven players all within a booking of a one-match suspension, while Barcelona have only two.
FIFA.com sets the scene for two second-leg matches that ought to serve up plenty of excitement and talking points.
A slight dip in Lionel Messi’s form has had serious consequences for Barcelona, who did everything but score at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday and then stumbled to a 2-1 defeat at home to Real Madrid on Saturday, a result that all but ends their hopes of landing the Liga title. Barça will need to recover their customary zip if they are to turn this semi-final around against a defensively resolute side that has habitually caused them problems in the competition. The Catalans have averaged 3.6 goals a game this season, which suggests they can overhaul the deficit, but with only one goal to show for their efforts in the last two outings, Pep Guardiola’s side have mislaid their scoring touch at a crucial stage of the season. And if Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal at the weekend is anything to go by, the Londoners will not be making life easy for the holders, having rediscovered their fighting spirit under caretaker coach Roberto di Matteo.
The road to the semis
- Winners of Group E with 11 points (W3, D2, L1)
- Round of 16: Beat Napoli 5-4 on aggregate (1-3, 4-1)
- Quarter-finals: Beat Benfica 3-1 on aggregate (1-0, 2-1)
- Winners of Group H with 16 points (W5, D1)
- Round of 16: Beat Bayer Leverkusen 10-2 on aggregate (3-1, 7-1)
- Quarter- finals: Beat AC Milan 3-1 on aggregate (0-0, 3-1)
Player to watch
Petr Cech was at his imperious best in the first leg, making several crucial stops to deny Messi and Co a vital away goal. The towering Chelsea custodian, who turns 30 next month and has made 364 appearances for the Blues since joining them eight years ago, was voted the best goalkeeper in the competition three times between 2005 and 2008.
15 - Barcelona are unbeaten in 15 Champions League games at home (13 wins and two draw) since October 2009. In 27 matches at home to English opposition,the Catalans have won 15, drawn 10 and lost two.
What they said
“We mustn’t forget that Chelsea can create a lot of danger with very little (possession). They do what they do very well,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
Beaten for the first time in this season’s competition last week, Real at least have a foothold in the tie thanks to Mesut Ozil’s away goal. A 1-0 victory will be enough to take them through, and having gained the solidity customarily associated with Jose Mourinho’s teams in his second year in charge, Los Merengues are certainly equipped to achieve it, with Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo developing a fine understanding at the spearhead of a well-drilled unit. With a narrow advantage to defend, Bayern will be looking to Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez to hit the nine-time European champions hard on the counter, and having seen the Bundesliga title go to Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, the Bavarians now have their sights set firmly on booking a place in the final at their home ground next month.
The road to the semis
- Winners of Group A with 13 points (W4, D1, L1)
- Round of 16: Beat Basel 7-1 on aggregate (0-1, 7-0)
- Quarter-finals: Beat Olympique 4-0 on aggregate (2-0, 2-0)
- Winners of Group D with 18 points (W6, D0, L0)
- Road of 16: Beat CSKA Moscow 5-2 on aggregate (1-1 and 4-1)
- Quarter finals: Beat APOEL Nicosia 8-2 on aggregate (3-0 and 5-2)
Player to watch
Even by his own high standards, Cristiano Ronaldo has had a hugely productive season, scoring 42 goals, including seven hat-tricks, his latest strike coming on Saturday as he upstaged Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou. Untypically quiet in the first leg in Munich last week, the Portuguese will be looking to extend a remarkable record in the second, having never ended on the losing side in the 25 Champions League games in which he has scored (12 wins and two draws with Real Madrid and 11 wins with Manchester United).
22 - The number of semi-finals Real Madrid have contested in Europe’s premier club competition over the years, 12 of which they have won. On nine of those occasions Los Merengues went on to win the trophy.
What they said
“I don’t think their away goal will change our tactics. We’re going to stay compact and when Real attack, as they have to, we should have the chance to hit them on the counter,” Bayern Munich forward Franck Ribery.
Have your say
Will Spain have a representative in this year’s final?