Despite big names being dropped out of the competition, the UEFA Champion’s League semifinals are set. There will be no German giants, Catalan clubs or English sides in the final four, but familiar names still prevailed.
After ousting Bayern Munich on aggregate 6-3 in the quarterfinals, Real Madrid are favored to take home their twelfth European Cup trophy.
Los Blancos needed extra time in the second leg to take down the Bavarian side in an exhausting contest. Center back Sergio Ramos conceded a goal that would have seen visiting Bayern through to the next round, but Christiano Ronaldo scored two minutes later to force the extra time.
The game turned in favor of the hosts in the 84th minute when Arturo Vidal was shown red for his sliding tackle on midfielder Marco Asensio. Ronaldo tallied twice in the extra period to bring his tournament total to seven and drive the dagger into shorthanded Bayern.
Real Madrid will face a motivated Atlético Madrid side in the semifinals. Atlético advanced through the quarterfinals will relative ease, defeating Premier League champions Leicester City in an uneventful two legs.
Real has defeated Atlético in two of the past three Champions League finals. The two sides have squared off five times in European play. The two recently tied 1-1 in La Liga and it will take a similar performance from Los Rojiblancos to top Real.
While Atlético has conceded only five goals in the tournament, third best among all teams, they will face a Real side that has scored 28 goals, the most in the Champions League. By comparison, Atlético has only scored 13 in the competition, the least among the four semifinalists.
To slow down Ronaldo and Co., Diego Simeone’s men will need stalwarts Diego Godín and Filipe Luíz to anchor the backline and build up to front men Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres. Atlético will also need to break down Real Madrid’s midfield and disrupt their passing.
Real has completed 88 percent of their passes in the tournament, the best among remaining competitors. Ultimately, Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and the rest of Real Madrid’s superior side will thwart Simeone’s attempt at revenge for last year’s extra time title game defeat.
The other half of the draw will feature the upstart French side AS Monaco. A youthful team with a high scoring attack, Monaco have been a dark horse team throughout the entire tournament. Monaco are the eighth youngest team in Europe’s top five leagues at an average age of 25.31 years.
Monaco topped Group E, one which featured perennial contenders Tottenham and Bayer Leverkusen. The French outfit then advanced past Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in the knockout stages to reach their first semifinal since 2004.
Domestically, Monaco find themselves with a game in hand and tied atop the Ligue Une table with Paris-Saint Germain.
Their front two of Falcao and wunderkind Kylian Mbappé have teamed up for 12 goals in the Champions Legaue. The 18-year-old Mbappé has found the back of the next five times in seven games and Falcao has scored seven in eight games. In total, Monaco have scored 21 goals in the Champions League, trailing only Real Madrid among the semifinalists.
The attacking minded Les Monégasques will run up against the top defense in the Champions League Juventus in what should be an enthralling fixture.
The Turin-based club, known affectionately as La Fidanzata d’Italia, the Girlfriend of Italy, has conceded merely two goals in all stages of the competition, both coming in the group stages against Olympique Lyon and Sevilla. Since then, Juventus has silenced Porto and the world’s top attack, Barcelona. PSG held Barcelona scoreless in the first leg of their round 16 clash. Barcelona clinically shredded their defense in the second leg, winning 6-1 and advancing.
The fact Juventus was able to hold Barca’s attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suraez and Neymar scoreless in two games is no small feat. More of the same should be expected against a high flying Monaco side. Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves hold down the fort in front of keeper Gianluigi Buffon, all well-experienced veterans.
Their class in defense should see them past Monaco. Should Monaco be able to beat their defense, Juventus has the weapons to score as well. Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuaín and Mario Mandžukić have connected for eight tournament goals. Juve play the quintessential Italian, defense-first style which should bring the end of Monaco’s magic run.
The two semifinals matchups will likely send Juventus and Real Madrid to the final, but an upset may be in the cards. Atlético Madrid relish the opportunity to unseat Real a year after painfully losing in the championship game. Monaco’s unstoppable attack may be the first to solve Juve’s puzzling defense.
The final will be held June 3 in Cardiff, Wales, at the Millennium Stadium.