UEFA Champions League: Semi-final power rankings
And then there were four, and with little doubt the best four. The remaining teams contesting the Champions League semi-finals managed to sweep pass their opposition in the last round pretty darn convincingly. Get pumped, people, now the real challenges begin with a place in the final at stake.
Here are my picks for the Champions League semi-finals.
Shalke 04 versus Manchester United
Who would have thought that German side Shalke 04, under the leadership of Ralf Rangnick for only a couple of weeks, would completely outclass the holders Inter Milan, an incredible 7-3 over the two legs? The Gelsenkirchener will be going into the tie against Manchester United with confidence coming out of their ears.
But can they do it again? Certainly Manchester United’s record against German opposition in this competition has a stench to it. Last season, after going out to Bayern Munich, it all got to United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s head, who described the Germans’s performance as “typically German,” whatever that means.
So, has Fergie learned his lesson? Probably not, but United go into this tie aiming for another sensational treble and, at the moment, an injury-free squad. Ryan Giggs, at the tender age of 37, is playing as if he hasn’t aged in the past 15 years; Wayne Rooney’s taking his temper out on the ball again, as opposed to the camera man; and Javier Hernandez, with 18 goals in 20 starts, hasn’t stopped smiling since he fist put on a United Shirt. Bad news, Shalke.
But then again, Shalke scored five goals at the San Siro (FIVE!), so it will be a tough draw for the United defence. Edu’s been on fire in this competition, although hardly at all in the Bundesliga, and Raul – who I thought retired back in 2004 – as found the joy in his football again.
Manchester United to make it Wembley, where they won their first European Cup back in 1968. They’ll need to be wary of any banana peels those dastardly Germans will no-doubt be planingt, but they should take the tie, 3-1.
AKA: El Classico. In fact, the two Spanish giants will come face-to-face four times in the space of 18 days – twice in the Champions League, once in the domestic league and once in the Spanish cup final. It’s almost like they’re playing out a mini World Series.
But seriously now; rewind to this time last year where Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, then of Inter Milan, met in the same round. Everyone expected Barcelona to sweep passed Inter, only to falter at the last hurdle to some cheap, cheap tactics. Pundits the world over hailed Mourinho for his ingenious strategy in having 10 men stand on the goal line for the entire second half to keep Barcelona at bay.
Will we see similar tactics deployed here, though? If Real Madrid are leading the tie at any point – absolutely. But Madrid need to grab a lead first, something Guardiola, with all of last year’s memories, will not want to give up at any cost.
We all know what Barcelona can do in attack, but their defence as to be at their best against Madrid, otherwise Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. will capitalize. Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique have been two of the world’s best centre-backs for a while now, though, having won pretty much everything together, including the World Cup, so if anyone can halt the Madrid charge, it’s them.
Barcelona’s defence will remain resolute and see-off the Madrid threat, while leaving it to Lionel Messi and David Villa to get the goals on the other side of the field to take the tie 2-0 overall. Gerard Pique will have a man of the match performace before going home to girlfriend Shakira. Lucky SOB.
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