With the quarter-finals done and dusted we have reached the pointy end of the UEFA Champions League. Here is what lies ahead this week:
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – 4:45am (AEST), Wednesday, May 3 @ Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
For the fourth consecutive season these two rivals play each other in the Champions League. They contested last season’s final and the 2014 decider, along with a quarter-final tie in 2015. Madrid derbies are known for lots of niggle and heated exchanges that will be sure to ignite again over the next week.
These two recently met in La Liga in April, with the game ending 1-1. Of course, a Champions League knockout tie is a different beast altogether, and Atletico will be relishing the opportunity to have two attempts to finally get one over big brother.
Real Madrid looked nervy defensively in the second quarter-final leg against Bayern Munich at home, with centre-back and captain Sergio Ramos in particular being targeted when Bayern were going forward. Ramos is well-known to Atletico though, scoring in both finals in 2014 and ’16; he will be expected to be a rock at the back.
Real Madrid will not have Gareth Bale available for the first leg, with one of Isco or James Rodriguez likely to feature on the left-wing in place of the Welsh superstar. Isco was preferred against Bayern Munich but didn’t have much influence on the contest playing out of position. Rodriguez has experience playing on the left and offers a sound passing range, neat ball control and the ability to score from long-distance.
Cristiano Ronaldo has often found himself shut out in previous games against Atletico Madrid, and will be needed to carry the Real Madrid forward line. Thankfully for them he has been in fine touch recently.
Atletico Madrid will be looking for captain Gabi to unsettle the passing game of Luka Modric, who has been strong for Real Madrid in midfield. Expect lots of little fouls by Gabi to disrupt the link-up play.
Don’t expect many goals to come out of this one, with Atletico Madrid well-organised defensively at the back. This should be another tightly contested encounter in the latest chapter of a fierce rivalry.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) May 1, 2017
Monaco v Juventus – 4:45am (AEST), Thursday, May 4 @ Stade Louis II, Monaco
Monaco are entering uncharted territory, appearing in the semi-finals for the first time since 2004. They face a step up in Italian opponents Juventus, who have crucial experience from making the final in 2015.
These two played against each other two seasons ago in the quarter-finals, with Juventus advancing 1-0 on aggregate. Both teams have had a changing of the guard since, with only three players who featured in the last tie between these two starting in the second-leg of the quarter-final ties that were played two weeks ago.
Monaco have rising star Kylian Mbappe to thank for advancing past Manchester City and Dortmund, with the 18-year-old scoring in his previous four Champions League knockout matches. How he comes up against Juventus centre-back Gorgio Chiellini will be interesting, with Chiellini having played at the elite level for nearly as long as Mbappe’s been born.
Monaco will be expected to attack heavily down the left-hand side, thanks to the partnership between left-back Benjamin Mendy and winger Thomas Lemar. These two have a great understanding and were able to cause major problems going forward against Dortmund in the last game.
As much as Monaco have been up for a gunfight in the knockout round encounters, it’s hard to see Juventus be so willing to throw caution to the wind. The Italian side cleanly nullified Barcelona in the quarter-finals, making Barcelona’s world-class forward line look like pretenders.
Juventus also have creativity of their own, with Paulo Dybala adjusting in the CAM position sitting behind striker Gonzolo Higuaín. With pacey winger Juan Cuadrado on the right, and striker Mario Mandzukic reinventing himself as a tall winger on the left, Juventus have options and flexibility to move between each other when attacking as a group.
Juventus have only conceded twice out of the 10 Champions League games this tournament, so the excitement of youth from Monaco will no doubt be required if they are going to dent the Juventus defensive wall.
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) May 1, 2017