Tuesday, May 05, 2015
Good morning, guten morgen, ciao ciao, y feliz Cinco de Mayo, Gheorghies. If it's early May, it means the Champions League is heating up. As all of you know, this event is comprised of the 32 best club teams in European football. After a shit-ton of matches to date, we are down to the semis, featuring four powerhouses. As usual of late, Spain is well represented with their superstar teams Real Madrid and Barcelona. No upstart Atletico Madrid this year, though. Also as usual of late, the British squads are nowhere to be found as we head down the stretch. Rounding out the semifinals, we have Bundesliga juggernauts Bayern Munich and a perky Juventus squad that just wrapped up a title win in Serie A. So let's figure out what to focus on here.
Semifinals Format: As is the case with other knock-out rounds (but not the final), teams play a home-and-home two-game series. Tie-breaker is most away goals scored, which makes for some great drama if the first game is a tie with goals scored. That puts the team that was at home first under the gun. They absolutely must score a goal in the second game to have a chance to advance.
Match-up 1: Juventus-Real Madrid
Game 1: Tuesday May 5th (in Turin), 2:45 PM ET
Game 2: Wednesday May 13th (in Madrid), 2:45 PM ET
Who you might be interested in seeing for Juventus: The key man up front is the Argentinian striker(formerly of Manchester United and Manchester City) Carlos Tevez, known (perhaps by only me) as El Rey de Swarth (see picture above). Despite looking like a caveman impersonating Anthony Kiedis, Tevez is quite good at putting the ball in the goal, especially in the Champions League (six goals to date in this year's tourney). Also worth watching is emerging midfielder (and ex-Man U prospect) Paul Pogba. He is an amazing athlete and I can't believe he slipped out of the grasp of my Red Devils.
If you want to play the "Hey, I know that guy!" game with more Juventus players, look for ex-Man U left back Patrice Evra, who looks a lot like Willis Drummond (pic below), but doesn't play as tough. Also look for ex-Italian national team captain Andrea Pirlo, who is more of a spot-playing reserve these days.
Who you might be interested in seeing for Real Madrid: In short, all of them. The word "loaded" doesn't even begin to describe the squad. We all know about Christiano Ronaldo's ability on the wing, Iker Casillas's skills in goal and the Peter Barrow impostor's speed and laser-like left foot on the other wing across from Ronaldo. But we also have the Mexican striker Chicharito, who is good at finding his way to the ball (but not much else), World Cup sensation James Rodriguez from Colombia, veteran Spaniard Sergio "Don't call me Val Kilmer" Ramos in defense and midfielder Luka Modric from Croatia (he lives on the second floor).
How we see this playing out: In La Liga, Real Madrid is two points back of Barcelona with three left. Their squad has been going full guns a-blazing to keep up in the race for the league title. However, it's hard to guess what's more important to fans of the club - a repeat Champions League win or a league title. All of you La Liga disciples (looking at you, Zman!) will remember Real Madrid just lost out on the title to upstart Atletico Madrid last year, and finished three points back in the race. Real Madrid fans will want both this year, but may feel the Champions League is now their best opportunity, since they don't get a crack at Barca in their last three matches.
Juve, on the other hand, is cruising in Serie A. They already clinched the title, up 15 points with four matches left. They can focus all efforts on the Champions League. But to be honest, they were lucky to get this far, having drawn a weak Monaco squad in the quarters. With a league title wrapped up, the club is firmly in the "happy to be here" camp.
Prediction: Real Madrid in an easy 5-2 (aggregate) romp.
Match-up 2: Bayern Munich-Barcelona
Game 1: Wednesday May 6th (in Munich), 2:45 PM ET
Game 2: Tuesday May 12th (in Barcelona), 2:45 PM ET
Who to watch on Bayern Munich: The German squad is loaded with stars. It features the wily vet Arjen Robben, the, um, eclectic-looking Frenchman Franck Ribery (seen below; yes I know he has a brutal scar from a car injury as a baby, but the dude is still goofy looking), the most fun futbol last name to yell excitedly (Bastian SCHWEIN-STEIGER), stud striker Thomas Muller, and...wait for it...distant cousin of my wife Claudio Pizarro (pictured above). We have never met him, but have heard the stories. The dude has had a good life in his 36+ years. He captained Peru's squad for many years, has enjoyed a prolific European club run (as well as a cameo with Chelsea a few years ago), bought and bred prizewinning horses and even got in trouble with the Peruvian soccer muckety-mucks for partying and smuggling ladies into hotel rooms while the team was preparing for a match. He was suspended eighteen months for what Wikipdia says was "having introduced women and alcohol into the national squad's hotel two days before Peru's away drubbing at the hands of Ecuador." You have to respect a man with priorities.
Who to watch on Barcelona: In short, everybody. The Messi/Neymar/Suarez trio is muy fabuloso, as they say in the old country. I don't need to recite the rest of the multi-millionaires playing. Maybe I should, but this post is long enough already.
How we see this playing out: Barcelona has a chip on their shoulder. Real Madrid won the last Champions League title and the big three strikers all had a disappointing end to their World Cup experiences. We think they come out hard and strong and out-passion the German squad, knowing they have an easy league schedule ahead. Bayern is stacked, but not as much as Barca.
Prediction: Barca squeaks by 4-3 (aggregate) to set the stage for the match the world wants to see: Barca-Real Madrid in Berlin on June 6th for the pride, the glory, the pay check, and all 99 of Nena's luftballoons.