Lee Davy takes a look at the two Champions League semi finals, as the road to Berlin resumes this week with Juventus hosting Real Madrid and Barcelona hosting Bayern Munich.
The Champions League returns to our TV screens this week, with the semi-final first legs. Juventus will host the reigning champions Real Madrid on Tuesday 5, May, and Barcelona will host Bayern Munich on Wednesday 6, May.
Juventus go into their most challenging fixture of the season on a high. A 1-0 victory over Sampdoria, on the weekend, ensured the Old Lady retained their Serie A title for the fourth consecutive year. They are also unbeaten in 12 European home games, losing only one of 17 since their stadium had a makeover.
It’s no coincidence, that run of four league titles started when Andrea Pirlo made the switch from AC Milan. Their talisman started that title winning game on the bench, but he is expected to start against the European champions. Influential midfielder Paul Pogba continues to be absent through a calf injury.
The destiny of the Spanish title is still to be determined. Real are still two points behind their arch rivals Barcelona, after a Ronaldo inspired hat trick ended Sevilla’s 35 match unbeaten home record, in a 3-2 win over the weekend. Barcelona thumped Cordoba 8-0 to retain their status as title favorites.
The Galacticos will still be without the French striker Karim Benzema, who has missed the last five games through injury. But the Welsh wizard, Gareth Bale, made a 30-minute stint in the weekend’s win, and is a likely starter.
The pair met in the group stages of the 2013-2014 Champions League campaign. Madrid won 2-1 at home, and secured a 2-2 draw in Turin. Ronaldo scored all three goals, and the current FIFA Ballon d’Or winner will be hoping to inch ahead of Lionel Messi in the all-time Champions League goal scoring charts. The two best players in the world both have 75 goals each.
The last time these two teams clashed in a Semi-Final was in 2003. Juventus won that tie 4-3 on aggregate, before going on to lose to AC Milan in the final.
I expect the game to be tight, and the smart money is on a score draw.
On Wednesday 6, Pep Guardiola will make an emotional return to the Nou Camp, as he takes his Bayern Munich side to face their toughest test of the season.
Guardiola won 14 trophies in four years as the Barcelona coach, making him the most successful in their history. He won the Champions League twice. And he put together arguably the greatest footballing side the world has ever seen. Luis Enrique has a lot of work to do.
But it’s going to be tough for Bayern to get anything out of this game. They are coming off the back of a German Cup semi-final axing at the hands of Borussia Dortmund. A game that saw their star striker Robert Lewandowski break his nose and cheekbone in a collision with the Dortmund keeper, and that makes him a big doubt ahead of Wednesday’s game. They also lost in the league at Bayer Leverkusen, on the weekend.
But the Germans are still a formidable outfit; as they proved with the 6-1 hammering they dished out to Porto, in the second leg of their quarterfinal clash. They also have history on their side. The last time the pair met in the semi-final was in 2013. Bayern handed out a 7-0 spanking, and went on to defeat Dortmund in an all-German final at Wembley.
I expect Barcelona to win this one by two or three goals.