From the 76 teams who kick-started in this season’s Champions League and a good 120 games later, it’s down to the last four, and the business end of the tournament begins from 22nd April 2014.
In action will be the defending champion Bayern Munich, the 2011-12 winners Chelsea, nine-time title-snatchers Real Madrid and the current La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid. Interestingly, the only team to have never won the Champions League out of those four is Atletico Madrid and of all the teams in action in the last-eight stage of the competition, they looked the sharpest, and the team to watch out.
Atletico have also drawn Chelsea, the last of the remaining Premier League teams and quite bluntly, the weakest of the four sides – the Blues are fourth favourite to lift the title at 19/4 (Bwin) – brightening the Spaniards’ chances of making it to their first ever Champions League final since 1974.
Chelsea and Atletico have played each other thrice in their history and both have won once apiece, apart from there being a draw, but what’s interesting to see is that a total of 13 goals were scored in those three matches.
With Eden Hazard still to recover after having limped out of the side’s quarter-final against PSG and Jose Mourinho having often bemoaned the lack of striking options in front of the goal, it’s hard to see the first leg have so many goals. Add that to Chelsea’s go-to tactic of “parking the bus” against superior attacking sides, and I will be looking one of these scorelines – 1-0 Atletico (11/2 at William Hill), 1-0 Chelsea (19/2 at BetVictor) or a 1-1 draw (6/1 at BetVictor).
The big question is whether Mourinho can conjure up some magic and pull another rabbit out of the bag at this very crucial stage of the competition. The bookmakers think otherwise and offer 3/1 (William Hill) for a Chelsea win in the first, away leg.
Had someone asked me a couple of weeks ago which team was the favourite to win the Champions League title this season, I wouldn’t have thought too much. Bayern Munich (now 6/4 at William Hill to win the title) had looked unbeatable through most part of not only their Bundesliga season but haven’t had too many difficulties disposing off their opponents in this premier European competition as well.
Suddenly, with the Bundesliga won, a defeat at the hands of Augsburg and then a 3-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund was followed by a ragged 1-1 draw against Manchester United in the first leg of their quarter-final. The Red Devils scored first at the Allianz Arena in the second leg yet again before the defending champions found their rhythm and came back to quell their challenge.
What these last few weeks do will be to give their semi-final opponents, Real Madrid, some hope. A lot of it, in fact. If Cristiano Ronaldo can get to full fitness and rediscover the mojo that’s already seen him hammer 28 goals in the La Liga and 14 in the Champions League this season, we could be in for a ripper.
Unlike the other semi-final, Bayern and Real Madrid have played some free-flowing football this season and one can expect some more of the same. Bayern slightly more experienced – they have been finalists last two seasons and won it last year – and the Ronaldo fitness saga could seal it in their favour (4/6 at bet365 to qualify for the final) but not before we have seen a few goals (7/10 and 67/40 at bet365 for over +2.5 & over +3.5 goals respectively in the first leg).