European soccer year entering final stretch

Four teams alive in Champions League

Soccer has entered the final stretch all throughout Europe. Some leagues already have a team that has clinched the league title; other leagues are currently witnessing heated races for first place. Teams are trying to collect as many points as possible from their remaining games to finish as high in their league as possible. Players are showcasing their talents with hopes of being selected for their country’s World Cup Squad.

While all this is going on, the Champions League has progressed into the semifinals with only four teams remaining. Soon, only two teams will remain to fight for the crown of Europe. Atletico Madrid will be facing Chelsea, and Real Madrid will battle it out with Bayern Munich to earn a spot in the final. The first leg of the draws will be on April 22 – 23, while the second legs will be played on April 29 – 30.

Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea

I haven’t gotten tired of writing that Atletico Madrid are having a phenomenal season, and I hope you haven’t gotten bored of reading it, because that is the only way to summarize their season so far. They are three points ahead of Real Madrid and four points ahead of Barcelona as La Liga has only five match weeks left. As if that weren’t enough, Atletico Madrid eliminated Barcelona in the previous round of the Champions League with a 1-1 away tie and a 1-0 win at home. They were definitely the better side of the two teams.

The pressure they put on Barcelona paid off, and they also missed a slew of chances in the game at home. Diego Simeone has by now established himself as one of football’s brightest and most talented managers. What he’s done with Atletico Madrid this season is perhaps enough for the manager of the year award, but he isn’t settling with that yet. He will bring the pressure he brought to Barcelona to Chelsea as well and look to eliminate them.

Chelsea sits in second place in the English Premier League, only two points behind Liverpool. The two teams will play each other in two weeks in what may be the deciding match of the championship in the league. Chelsea’s Champions League run has been exciting to say the least. After losing 3-1 to Paris Saint-Germain in Paris, they managed to win 2-0 thanks to a late goal from Demba Ba and ended up moving to the semifinals.

Mourinho deployed an extremely offensive roster with three strikers and two more offensive-minded midfielders, and it paid off. However, I’m sure he wasn’t happy that his team ended up bringing the draw to that point. Chelsea, while in general performing at an extremely high level, has slipped every now and then. If they have one of those slips against Atletico Madrid, they will surely be penalized.

One aspect that makes this match interesting is Atletico Madrid’s starting goalie, Thibaut Courtois. Courtois has been on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea since 2011, and he has proven to be one of the most important players on the team. At age 21, he has established himself as one of Europe’s best. However, it seems like Atletico Madrid will be having a hard playing the star keeper against Chelsea. Apparently, his contract has a clause that states that Atletico Madrid have to pay Chelsea a hefty fee of around 4.5 million euros per game.

Atletico Madrid’s president has announced that they cannot pay such a fee, but fortunately for them, they have the support of the Union of European Football Associations. The UEFA has stated that such clauses are against the spirit of the sport and that such a clause will be null and void, paving the way for Courtois to appear against Chelsea. It is still a mystery whether or not Chelsea will actually pursue the fee asked or prevent Courtois from playing against them. Courtois has the potential to be the star of the tie and save Atletico from elimination.

Whether Courtois plays or not, this match will be extremely exciting to watch. Both teams truly play with their hearts and apply major pressure on their opponents. Fans will watch two matches contested until the last whistle with a lot of fighting for the ball in the midfield. It will be hard to call the team to advance, as it may be decided on away goals or maybe even penalty kicks.

Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich

These two European giants came here after overcoming fear of elimination. Bayern Munich tied with Manchester United 1-1 in England and won 3-1 in Munich. However, Manchester United were the better side in the first leg and managed to get the first goal in the second leg. People were not expecting that, as they thought that Pep Guardiola’s side would have cruised to the semifinals. It goes to show that nothing in soccer is easy.

Furthermore, after losing to Nurnberg in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich suffered a 3-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund this past weekend. The players apparently have a lack of concentration when it comes to the Bundesliga, but Guardiola needs to make sure that his squad is in tiptop mental shape for the Real Madrid match-up.

Real Madrid’s loss to Barcelona may have cost them the league, but they are still performing well offensively. However, after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-0 in the first leg of the quarterfinals, they lost 2-0 in match in Dortmund. If it weren’t for Iker Casillas, perhaps we would have seen a semifinal match-up of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund had plenty of chances to equalize and aggregate, and eventually strike a goal that would have seen them past Real Madrid. However, their strikers failed to make chances with Henrikh Mkhitaryan leading the way with a miss on an open goal. Thus, Real Madrid managed to withstand Borussia Dortmund’s onslaught and saw themselves to the semifinals. Their task won’t be easy as they face their third German opponent after eliminating Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund.

The last time these two sides came together (in the 2012 semifinals), Real Madrid ended up losing on penalty kicks. They will seek revenge, but it won’t be easy. Ancelotti’s side tends to push higher up with players like Gareth Bale, Di Maria, and Cristiano Ronaldo, while Guardiola always prefers a calmer and more collected approach focused on controlling the ball. It will be a battle between offensive and controlled soccer. Although it will be extremely close, I still see Bayern Munich with a slight edge in the matchup. Dortmund showed that Real Madrid’s defense has key issues that can be exploited, and Guardiola will definitely look to make the most of those issues. Don’t miss out on these two giants battling it out for a spot at the final!