Four teams remain alive in the UEFA Champions League. This week begins the process that will see their number cut in half, and the matches should be quite the spectacle.
Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid are the final four clubs competing for Europe's most prestigious club trophy. And if this season is any indication, these four will more than live up to the occasion.
Dortmund and Real, who will meet in Wednesday's semifinal, clashed twice in the group stage, with Dortmund winning at home and the teams drawing in Madrid. Both advanced from Group D, the so-called "Group of Death," and both have produced moments of quality and shown nerves during the knockout stages.
Bayern and Barca will meet in Tuesday's semifinal, and it should be a mouthwatering matchup. Barca won the competition in 2009 and 2011, and Bayern were beaten finalists in 2010 and 2012.
Barcelona's former manager, Pep Guardiola, is set to take over as Bayern's new boss this summer, and the move could be interpreted as a metaphor. With Barca trying to extend their dynasty, Bayern are trying to start their own, and a victory over Pep's former team would be a brilliant blasting-off point.
With all that in mind, here's everything you need to know about this week's semifinals, including our predictions for the first legs.
Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona
When: Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET
Where: Allianz Arena, Munich
Bayern Munich impressed in the quarterfinals, handling Italian champions Juventus with some ease in a 4-0 aggregate victory. But manager Jupp Heynckes will have a few selection issues to resolve before Tuesday.
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, who has scored 15 Bundesliga goals this season, is suspended after being booked in both quarterfinal legs against Juventus. Mario Gomez, who has scored five goals in his last two matches, and Claudio Pizarro, who has three goals and three assists in his last three games, are both available.
Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber are injured. Thomas Müller likely will move into the central attacking midfield role, with Arjen Robben playing on the right. Daniel van Buyten, 35, could start in central defense alongside Dante.
Possible starting lineup for Bayern:
(all lineups via LineupBuilder.com)
Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova will also deal with injury concerns. Superstar forward Lionel Messi continues to recover from a hamstring injury but has been included in Barca's squad (via The Independent). The presence of the four-time defending Ballon d'Or winner will be crucial to Barca—his second-half introduction against PSG swung the quarterfinal second leg—but he is not the only worry.
Barca's defense is short of options with Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano injured and Adriano suspended. Marc Bartra, who has made seven league appearances this season, could start in central defense.
Barca had an unfamiliar feel in a weekend win over Levante, with several starters rested. Here is a possible Barcelona lineup:
Bayern slipped up against BATE Borisov in the group stage and again against Arsenal in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie. Otherwise, though, the newly crowned Bundesliga champions have been outstanding this season as they chase a treble of trophies. The squad is deep, balanced and full of experience, and Bayern made a team of Juventus's quality look poor over two legs.
Barcelona have plenty of experience as well, not to mention the world's best player in Messi. The injuries in defense are concerning, though, as was the close call against PSG in the quarterfinals.
Could this be the end of Barcelona's reign and the beginning of Bayern's? It's never wise to count out Messi, especially over two legs. But we think Bayern's multiple-threat attack and midfield, which is strong enough to keep up with Barcelona's, will prove decisive in Germany in the first leg.
Prediction: Bayern 2, Barcelona 1
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
When: Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET
Where: Signal-Iduna Park, Dortmund
Mats Hummels, a central defender with ball-playing skills out of the back, has returned to full fitness for Dortmund. He is set to start alongside Neven Subotic.
Otherwise, BVB's squad is mostly healthy, though midfielder Sebastian Kehl is out with an injury. Here is a possible Dortmund lineup for Wednesday:
Real Madrid right-back Alvaro Arbeloa is suspended. Michael Essien started there against Galatasaray in Turkey but has not played since. That could mean Sergio Ramos, who is returning from yellow-card suspension, will start on the right instead of in the middle.
Xabi Alonso also returns from suspension and will likely start next to Sami Khedira in central midfield. Luka Modric, who suffered an injury against Real Betis over the weekend, has been included in Jose Mourinho's squad, according to Marca.
The same article claims Gonzalo Higuaín is more likely than Karim Benzema to start at striker.
Borussia Dortmund defeated Real Madrid 2-1 at home on Matchday 3 and held on for a 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu. Those four points helped Jurgen Klopp's team win Group D ahead of Real, but repeating the feat in the semifinals will be an entirely new task.
Dortmund are still fighting for second place in the Bundesliga, and thus Klopp played a strong side at the weekend against Mainz. Mourinho, on the other hand, was able to rest some regulars against Betis.
Madrid will have the more experienced side, but Dortmund feature enough attacking and defensive options to play with any team in Europe. As they showed in the group stage, they can beat anyone—but as they showed in the last round with a late escape against Malaga, they are also vulnerable.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 1, Real Madrid 1
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