Atletico are the only one of the four semi-finalists never to have lifted the European Cup, but their stunning form this season and quarter-final victory over Barcelona suggests they are serious contenders to break that duck.
Diego Simeone’s men currently top La Liga with just six games to go, having built their success on a tireless work ethic, discipline and an ability to mount lightning-quick counter-attacks.
Los Rojiblancos are unbeaten at home in La Liga this season and boast Spain’s meanest defence with just 22 league goals conceded, so Chelsea’s stuttering forwards will have their work cut out over the two legs.
Chelsea have also been thrifty at the back, their 24 goals conceded in 33 Premier League games the stingiest in England’s top flight.
While Chelsea’s record at Stamford Bridge is exemplary with 15 wins and just two draws in 17 league games, away from home the Blues have struggled somewhat, losing five and drawing four of their 16 games on the road.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho won three of the four games against Atletico while he was manager of Real Madrid, and that might just give the Portuguese a slight psychological advantage over his Argentine counterpart.
However, this current Atletico side is a much stronger beast than the one Mourinho faced, and the confidence they have gained throughout this season’s Champions League run and rise to the top of La Liga will mean they will meet this latest challenge head on.
In their first ever Champions League semi-final they will be undaunted by Chelsea’s impressive showing in Europe’s premier competition, with the Blues preparing for their seventh last-four appearance in 11 seasons.
Add in the interesting sub-plots of Fernando Torres returning to his former club and the on-loan Thibaut Courtois cleared by UEFA to face his parent club and you have added texture to what is an already intriguing contest.
Expect Atletico to storm out of the blocks at a packed and partisan Vicente Calderon Stadium, just as they did against Barca in the quarter-finals, as Simeone looks to give his side a first-leg advantage.
But if Chelsea can weather the anticipated early storm and keep their opponents within reach before the second leg at the Bridge, then they have already proven that they can make home advantage count and get the required result, just as they did after losing 3-1 to Paris St-Germain in the last round.
However, Atleti hope to have top scorer Diego Costa (hamstring) and key midfielder Arda Turan (groin) back from injury for the April 22 clash, while star man Eden Hazard is a doubt for Chelsea after he limped out of Tuesday’s win over PSG with a calf injury.
I expect both ties to be close, hard-fought affairs, but with a more ruthless cutting edge upfront and more disciplined defence, I’d expect Atletico to emerge with narrow victories from both legs.
First leg: Atletico Madrid 2-1 Chelsea
Second leg: Chelsea 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Aggregate: Atletico Madrid 4-2 Chelsea
Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Champions League ties don’t come any more mouthwatering than this clash between two of the competitions most successful sides.
With 14 wins between them, Real have nine successes with Bayern lifting the trophy five times, there will be no shortage of pedigree on show when they emerge at the Bernabeu on April 23.
Reigning champions Bayern are hoping to become the first side to successfully retain the trophy since AC Milan in 1990, and given their spectacular form this season it is hard to bet against them doing just that.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real squeezed into the semi-finals on the back of a nervous and unconvincing 3-2 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund, with Cristiano Ronaldo rested for the second leg after Los Blancos had eased through the first leg 3-0.
While they are unlikely to show similar complacency against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering German champions, it is clear they will have to be at their very best if they are to dethrone the holders.
Despite their immense attacking talent, Madrid are still susceptible at the back and with the array of devastating forward options available to Bayern, it is difficult to see this clash not being a high-scoring affair.
Bayern showed in their emphatic disposal of Manchester United in the last 16 that they have the ability to control the pace and tempo of the game, and but for some staunch United defending and their own wastefulness, they could have been even more convincing winners over the two legs.
Bayern will also have influential midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez back from suspension, although Thiago Alcantara (knee), Diego Contento (foot) and Xherdan Shaqiri (thigh) are all doubtful.
The return of Schweinsteiger, in particular, will be a huge boost to Munich as he is a key figure in Guardiola’s gameplan, and his all-action game will help stifle the supply line to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria, Isco et al.
Either way, I believe Bayern will have too much power, discipline and togetherness for Real and I would expect them to advance to yet another final and move a step closer to becoming the first club to retain the trophy in the Champions League era in Lisbon on May 24.
First leg: Real Madrid 3-2 Bayern Munich
Second leg: Bayern Munich 3-1 Real Madrid
Aggregate: Bayern Munich 5-4 Real Madrid
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