The Champions League semi-final draw was always going to throw up two mouthwatering ties, but Friday's pairings come laced with fascinating subplots.
Headlining this year's selection is Real Madrid's glamour tie with defending champions Bayern Munich, while Chelsea's battle against Atletico Madrid instantly throws up an issue over goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Bleacher Report UK confirmed the fixtures on Twitter shortly after the draw:
The full Champions League semi-final draw: Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea Apr 22-23/29-30 pic.twitter.com/RjlseEO98G— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) April 11, 2014
Each side's destiny was decided at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. Atletico and Chelsea's first-leg tie will begin the semi-final on April 22, followed by Real and Bayern's showdown at the Bernabeu the following day.
Second-leg contests will then take place in reverse, concluding on April 29 and 30.
All details can be found in the table below:
|Team||vs.||Team||First Leg||Second Leg|
|Real Madrid||vs.||Bayern Munich||April 23, 2014||April 29, 2014|
|Atletico Madrid||vs.||Chelsea||April 22, 2014||April 30, 2014|
The tie of the round is undoubtedly Real's battle against Bayern, giving former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola another opportunity to slow Los Blancos' progress toward silverware.
The Camp Nou legend, who won the competition twice with Barca, will receive the full support of his old club as he prepares to end Real's hopes of a 10th European cup, or "La Decima."
This encounter sees the exciting prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale going up against Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, provided Ronaldo recovers from his hamstring injury in time.
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Both teams possess incredible quality throughout their ranks and play the type of attacking football that should ensure plenty of goals. Bayern were frustrated against a defensive Manchester United side in the last round, but they are sure to find spaces against Real, who naturally play on the front foot under Carlo Ancelotti.
While this tie is likely to be defined by free-flowing, explosive football, Atletico's tie with Chelsea is sure to be a tight, tactical affair.
The encounter is already steeped in controversy after a clause in the contract of on-loan goalkeeper Courtois came to light, per Adrian Kajumba of the Daily Star. Chelsea are said to have inserted a term that would see Atletico pay £2.5 million for every appearance Courtois makes against his parent club, but this was deemed "void" by UEFA, per the governing body's official statement.
Atletico president Enrique Cerezo confirmed they wouldn't be able to offer this fee, per Kajumba, saying, "It's a number we can't afford to pay."
That sum would be £5 million for two matches, but it seems UEFA's ruling ensures Atletico have nothing to worry about. Attention can now turn to the La Liga leaders' attempts to win their first Champions League trophy against a team that triumphed in 2012.
Both sides are considered underdogs for the prize, but both will believe they have the guile and guts to reach Lisbon. Atletico's attack—led by rumoured Chelsea target Diego Costa, per Marc Williams of The Independent—will look to overpower a side that is learning how to battle under Jose Mourinho.
Of course, should Chelsea advance to the final, Mourinho will face a showpiece match against either his former club or his old nemesis in Guardiola.
This season's Champions League is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic campaigns in the tournament's history. With the aforementioned storylines bubbling under, there's plenty for European football fans to get excited about across the final moments of the season.