Champions League Semifinals: Complete Guide to Both Games
The draw for the Champions League semifinals has been made and, with the giants of Spain and Germany having been kept separate, there is the distinct possibility of a fierce national rivalry to whet the appetite ahead of May's final.
Kicking it off on April 23 will be the clash between Champions League heavyweights Bayern Munich and Barcelona. A day later, Borussia Dortmund will host Real Madrid in the second semifinal.
With four European heavyweights facing off for a place at Wembley, each presenting their own very different philosophy and virtues, we are surely set for a veritable footballing feast in the weeks to come.
Bayern vs. Barcelona
It is the tie that many believe should be the final, with the best of Germany facing off against the best of Spain in what is a clash of some of the greatest talents of the current footballing era.
Bayern, the side with the best domestic record of Europe's elite this season, have twice reached the final in recent years. The Germans' last tournament win, though, came over a decade ago in 2001.
Comfortable wins against Arsenal and Juventus have put the Bavarians through to this stage and, on current form, they appear the side to beat this time around. Avenging last year's defeat to underdogs Chelsea will no doubt be weighing heavy on their minds.
Against them will be the mighty Barcelona, the elite force of European football over the past five years.
Finalists in 2008, the Catalans have since gone on to also reach at least the semifinal stage in their following five campaigns—a new Champions League record. Among those were famous victories over Manchester United to win the tournament in both 2009 and 2011.
The Azulgrana will once more be gunning for success in 2013, having overcome difficult ties with AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain in the past month to reach this stage.
Key Battle: Arjen Robben vs. Jordi Alba
Both AC Milan and PSG have shown in this year's Champions League that Barcelona's defence is highly fallible if you can get behind the full-backs.
While the centre of defence also has its shaky moments, it has been wide forwards Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Stephan El-Shaarawy who have had the greatest success at breaking the Barcelona defensive line.
The effect in both ties was to pin both full-backs, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, back in defensive areas and limit their natural games. Their lack of attacking thrust left Barcelona lacking in width when in possession.
This, then, must be the job of both Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben when the two sides face off in a fortnight's time.
Robben is a frustrating player but has shown in the past that he can be a match-winner at the highest level when on form.
If Bayern can isolate him against Alba and frustrate Barça with their high-pressing game, then they could gain an upper-hand in the match as a whole, which will be difficult for the Catalan side to resist.
Watch For: A Barcelona Resurgence
The Catalan side have not been convincing in their progress to the semifinal stage but have shown enough to suggest they can up their game when needed.
When in trouble against both AC Milan and PSG, Barcelona were able to find enough in reserve to change the game.
This is a side, as shown by the core who won Euro 2012 with Spain, that respond well to criticism. It would be no surprise to see their key individuals up their game and deliver a message once more against Bayern.
The question is, though, are they capable of yet another major effort in this year's competition?
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
In the second of this year's semifinal clashes, we are handed a rematch of one of the most fascinating ties of the group stages, as Bundesliga champions Dortmund take on La Liga champions Real Madrid.
It was the Germans who came out on top in those clashes, earning a 2-1 home win before drawing away at the Bernabeu.
While neither side is heading for repeat success domestically this campaign, they will both consider themselves to be in prime position to fight for a European title.
For Dortmund, confidence will be flowing through the side after the dramatic scenes that saw them overcome Malaga with two goals in the final moments on Tuesday night. The possible return of star defender Mats Hummels, though, could be a decisive factor against a powerful Real forward line.
For Madrid fans, the possibility of La Decima—the club's 10th European Cup triumph—now looms large on the horizon.
With no Champions League win since 2002, Europe's most successful side will be under a lot of pressure. And with manager Jose Mourinho tipped for a summer departure, there is no doubt that they will be supremely motivated to achieve their long-term aim this time around.
Key Battle: Ilkay Gundogan vs. Xabi Alonso
This is not so much of a direct confrontation positionally, but rather a battle to see which of the two key central midfield players is most able to stamp his authority on the game.
Gundogan, at just 22, is the young pretender. Having come into the Dortmund side to replace Nuri Sahin when he departed for the Bernabeu in 2011, the German international has gone on to make a name as one of the best in Europe in his position.
Gundogan is going up against one of Europe's masters of the deep-lying midfield playmaker role in Alonso. Real Madrid were abysmal at retaining control of the game against Galatasaray in this week's second leg, and it is no surprise that Alonso was absent on that occasion.
Both players are excellent passers, but it will be interesting to see how Gundogan matches up with Alonso both in terms of his defensive work and intelligence of distribution.
The winner of this matchup could be the deciding factor between the two sides.
Watch For: Mourinho To Seek Revenge
As discussed above, Real Madrid suffered at the hands of their German rivals in the group stage and will be fully aware of the difficult challenge that await them.
Mourinho, though, is not normally a manager to make the same mistakes twice.
Those who remember Inter Milan's success in the 2009-10 Champions League will also remember that Inter had already faced, and come up short against, semifinal opponents Barcelona in the group stage.
A change of tactical approach later and Inter were in the final. It may not have been pretty, but Mourinho worked on a system to negate Barcelona.
There are few better when it comes to learning from past encounters, as he has also done domestically to secure the recent upper-hand in El Clasico fixtures.
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