We preview the mouth-watering Champions League semi-finals and take a look at why the final will be a fantastic encounter, whoever gets there.
With all the favourites comfortably through their respective quarter finals, we are now certain of a blockbuster Champions League final in Munich this May.
Semi-Final A: Barcelona v Chelsea
For two teams of such stature, this game is a massive contrast of current standings. Barcelona, favourites for the tournament, are widely touted as the best club team of this generation, and possibly the best team of all time. Although this argument can never be tested empirically, it is fair to argue that this is currently the best club team in the world. Chelsea, meanwhile, have had a turbulent season culminating in the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. Fighting for a top-four place in the Premier League (and subsequent entry into next season’s Champions League) their run to the semi-finals is somewhat unexpected given their aging squad and change in management.
If, as expected, Barcelona reach the final they will face either FC Bayern in their home stadium or Spanish arch-rivals Madrid. This collection of Barcelona players is one that deserves silverware for the utterly devastating performances they have consistency produced throughout the tournament, including the Messi-inspired 7-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen in March. I’m sure every neutral in the football world would like to see Messi have the chance to write another chapter in football history at the Allianz Arena in May. Much has been said of the diminutive Argentine’s claim to be the greatest player ever, and that he can’t even contest this title until he has won a World Cup (nonsense). A record-breaking Champions League campaign (14 competition goals at the time of writing) culminating in another European title for Barcelona would certainly add more weight to his challenge on Pelé and Maradona. And then there’s the small matter of Barcelona having the chance to become the first club to ever retain the UEFA Champions League.
Chelsea approach the quarter finals as underdogs and beating Barcelona to reach the final would be one of their greatest achievements under Roman Abramovich’s reign. In an intriguing sub-plot, Roberto Di Matteo would surely establish himself as the number one candidate for the permanent managerial role at Chelsea if he were to overturn the greatest team of this generation. The story goes deeper too. Fernando Torres, once one of world football’s most feared strikers, would be on the biggest stage once again. Although he is nowhere near his peak Liverpool days, he is starting to show the instinct of a few years ago and few would begrudge him a European final appearance to get his career back on track. This season also may be the last chance for Chelsea’s modern legends (Terry, Lampard and Drogba) to take that elusive European crown.
Semi-Final B: Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
This semi final is the tale of two form teams. Bayern, the German giants looking to reach the Champions League final in their home stadium, have made light work of progressing to this stage. After topping a ‘Group of Death’ including Manchester City, Napoli and Villarreal they faced FC Basel (from whom they recently purchased wonderkid Xherdan Shaqiri). After a nervous 0-1 first leg defeat, they inflicted a brutal 7-0 result at the Allianz Arena, followed by a comfortable 4-0 aggregate win over Marseille in the quarter final. A final in Munich is a massive motivating force for the Germans, who would surely fancy themselves on the familiar turf of the 60,000-seater stadium. Mario Gomez is the second highest goal scorer in this seasons’ competition behind the mercurial Messi, whilst a fit Arjen Robben is still one of the game’s most dangerous wingers.
Real Madrid are on the verge of an historic La Liga title and toppling the previously-unstoppable Catalonians. In Jose Mourinho they have the mastermind who ‘parked the bus’ two seasons ago to lead his Inter Milan side to a Champions League title ahead of Guardiola’s Barcelona (in the semi finals) and, interesting, Bayern Munich (2-0 in the final). They would love nothing better than to beat Barcelona in the final and Mourinho particularly as he is taunted by the Blaugrana fans with the moniker ‘The Translator’ after his time working under Bobby Robson early in his career. The alternative for Madrid is a final against Mourinho’s former employer Chelsea, which in itself would offer many tantalising stories. As previously highlighted, many of Mourinho’s key players at Chelsea are reaching the twilight of their careers and a direct head-to-head against their beloved mentor would serve as extra motivation. With Robben, Ribery, Gomez, Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil, Kaka and Higuain providing the attacking flair, this semi-final has the potential to be a classic encounter in its own right.
The Possible Finals
Barcelona v Real Madrid (odds – 8/11)
The neutrals’ favourite; arguably the two greatest club sides in the world on both history and current squads. The Spanish rivals also possess the two best players in the world in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. With the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Kaka, Casillas, Puyol, Ozil, Villa and co also on the pitch, this would surely go down as one of the great finals of all time.
Barcelona v Bayern Munich (odds – 12/5)
Arguably the neutrals’ second choice; the world’s greatest team versus the hosts. With Bayern in their home stadium, facing minimal travel time and on their familiar pitch, this would be no foregone conclusion. Munich are also great entertainers this season, having scored four or more in a game on seven occasions in the Bundesliga this season.
Real Madrid v Chelsea (odds – 11/2)
The sub-plot of Mourinho v Chelsea has already been mentioned, and this element would certainly add spice to this final line-up. Madrid would be the favourites, but if Chelsea are able to get past Barcelona then they would have little reason to fear the team from the Spanish capital over 90 minutes. The game would also see the second time Cristiano Ronaldo has faced Chelsea in a European final.
Bayern Munich v Chelsea (odds – 10/1)
It is somewhat unlikely that neither of the Spanish clubs will reach the final, but a Bayern v Chelsea final would still offer a fantastic conclusion to this season’s competition. Bayern would go in as favourites due to home advantage, which would no doubt play its part in one way or another. Chelsea meanwhile may go into the game knowing only a victory will guarantee their entry into next season’s competition.
Whatever the outcome of the semi finals, everything is in place for a memorable final on May 19th.
Odds courtesy of SkyBet.com