And then there were four.
The semifinal round of the Champions League is here and you couldn't make up a more motley crew of squads.
The new-look Chelsea from England's Premier League might be overshadowed by their three competitors, but that will only allow them to take on La Liga's Barcelona and perhaps stop them from capturing their third piece of Champions League silverware in four years.
Real Madrid, La Liga's other team left in the tournament, are more polished than Cristiano Ronaldo's hair, but how well will they match up with the well-oiled machine that is Bundesliga's Bayern Munich?
The next two weeks are going to provide the best Tuesdays and Wednesdays you'll experience until—well—this time next year.
So, without further ado about nothing, I give you the 10 boldest predictions about both semifinal series and fill you in on who's going to the Champions League final in Germany.
The first legs of the semifinals are played out over two days, with Bayern Munich hosting Real Madrid on April 17th and Barcelona going to Chelsea on April 18th.
A cursory look at the four teams’ schedules surrounding the first leg shows that Bayern Munich has a distinct advantage over Real Madrid.
For one, Bayern will have just hosted lowly Mainz three days prior before at Allianz Arena, while Real Madrid will be making their first trip to Germany in over a year.
Also, just days after the first leg, Bayern have the luxury of traveling to play Werder Bremen. Real Madrid? They’ve got to play Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Bayern Munich will come out of the gate much fresher and be absent from the pressure of having to play a tough league opponent just days later.
Who better to stand out in Bayern Munich’s best and biggest performance of the 2011-12 season than Franck Ribery?
The guy's just been outstanding for Bayern, scoring 11 goals in Bundesliga matches and assisting on 11 others.
The Frenchman's performance in the Champions League (only two goals and two assists in 11 appearances) will be forgiven when he puts Deutschland on top of España.
Bayern Munich have been incredibly efficient in their Champions League campaign so far, scoring an average of 2.75 goals per match in their Round of 16 and quarterfinals matches.
The German champions will win the first leg against a tired—and, in my opinion, unproven—Real Madrid squad. In fact, they’ll hang three goals on the La Liga greats (bonus prediction!), which is more than the club have conceded in a single match so far this season.
This is probably the least bold of all my predictions, as Barcelona are the overwhelming favorite by many not only to win the semifinals, but to take home the Champions League silverware in May.
But to come to London and score before the 15th minute? Few can do that. Benfica’s only goal in the quarterfinals came in the last five minutes of the second leg after the series was all but wrapped up.
Barca are notorious for starting matches quickly and, sadly for Blues fans, Chelsea are not. A Lionel Messi-led counterattack will catch Chelsea’s centre-backs napping and the game will be 1-0 in Barcelona’s favor before the clock reads 15:00.
Caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo has done more than “take care” of Chelsea, resurrecting the Blues’ hopes for a top-four finish in the Premier League and an opportunity at next season’s Champions League.
Di Matteo guided the boys of Stamford Bridge to one of the most impressive comebacks against Napoli and his poise during the quarterfinal series against Benfica was on the same level as a Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho.
If the last slide was the least bold of my predictions, this is close to my most bold.
Barcelona showed weakness against AC Milan, drawing 0-0 in the first leg of the quarterfinals in Italy. I have them going to England and losing 2-1.
A week later, on April 24th and 25th, the second leg of the semifinals will be played out.
Chelsea go to Barcelona with a 2-1 lead, but it can all vanish. One goal isn’t nearly enough of a lead against powerhouse Barca and those two away goals will put some added—and unneeded—pressure on Di Matteo’s squad.
Barcelona will score first in front of their home crowd, putting the series in their favor. However, in the waning minutes of the first half, Chelsea will bring things level.
I had to do it.
Previously one of the world's most feared strikers, Fernando Torres is now the biggest goat in southwest London.
In my boldest of bold predictions, I say Torres will redeem himself in the biggest of ways.
Yes, he hasn't scored a goal in Champions League play since October 19th against Racing Genk (Racing who?), but his form is up slightly in league fixtures. I think a lucky goal is more than possible—it's probable!
Barcelona will certainly get the lion’s share of goals, but it’ll be Chelsea’s second goal late in the second half that finalizes the score at 3-2. That makes the aggregate 4-4, but it gives the Blues the advantage in away goals, scooting them through in the finals to face the winner of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
Hey, if Osasuna can hang three on Barca, so can Chelsea.
...And then they'll break out in heartfelt slow dance. (Another bonus prediction!)
But seriously, the German giants will make it 4-1 on aggregate before the 20th minute and set the stage for the biggest Champions League comeback in Real Madrid history.
It's just too bad Real Madrid won't show up to the party.
As I said earlier, Los Blancos haven't impressed in this season's Champions League. Who were their opponents in group play? Dinamo Zagreb, Ajax and Lyon?
Then they faced "powerhouse" CSKA Moscow in the Round of 16 before going up against Apoel Nicosia in the quarterfinals?
Bayern Munich will be a big splash of very cold water in the face of Real Madrid, and they won't know what to do with the German champions. Real Madrid will win the second leg at Santiago Bernabéu, but only by a score of 3-2, helping Bayern Munich win by an aggregate score of 5-4.