In the next couple of weeks the finalists will be determined for both the Champions and Europa League – heres my preview and predictions.
Juventus v Real Madrid
Heavyweight Clash number one!!!!!!! What a game to start off the semi-finals of Europe’s premier cup competition. As I thought Real – just (and only just) made it past their city rivals Atletico in a bruising encounter with a late Javier ‘Chicharito – Little Pea’ Hernandez goal to send them through to their fifth consecutive semi-final and more importantly a step closer to becoming the first side to ever retain the Champions League. Juventus find themselves in the semi-finals for the first time since 2003 and with a fourth successive Serie A title secured their full concentration will be on reaching the final. Funnily enough on their last appearance in the last four, who did they face, you’ve guessed it, Real Madrid, and in yet more coincidence the Spanish side were looking to retain the title they won the year before. Will lightning strike again? The Italian side will most definitely hope so. My thoughts – as always at this stage and especially with two top teams is that it will be cagey. I can actually see a 0-0 in the first leg then it will be all to play for at the Bernabeu and yet again I can see a late Real winner to get them through to the final and maybes just maybe after the decima last year they may well make it the ‘undecimo’ in 2015.
Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Heavyweight Clash number two!!!!!!! and welcome back Pep that will be the message from the Barcelona fans, hierarchy and people (pre-match anyways). The man who made the Catalan team the most formidable in Europe for a number of years is back and will justifiably be lauded until the kick off. Luis Enrique after a difficult period in the autumn has made Barcelona the form team in Europe since the start of the year. With a front three of Neymar, Suarez and some little bloke called Messi (oh with Iniesta hitting top form too) – they have wreaked havoc, though huge kudos must go to their defence especially Gerard Pique who has stepped up after a poor 2014 – in all fairness for club and country – with outstanding performances marshalling a defence alongside Javier Mascherano or Jeremy Mathieu and sitting midfielder Sergio Busquets. Bayern have been average in 2015, they are already Bundesliga champions and now they have been knocked out of their domestic cup competition their sole focus is now on regaining the title they won in 2013 at Wembley. They have not won any of their away knockout matches so far but at home they have an aggregate of 13-1 after 7-0 and 6-1 wins againsts Shakhtar and Porto respectively. The win over the Portuguese side being crucial after a 3-1 away leg defeat. Injuries have been an issue for the German Champions who have been without key players such as Robben, Ribery, Benatia, Schweinsteiger, Lahm at points throughout the season and that’s not even mentioning the versatile Javi Martinez who has been out all season. Thankfully another early season absentee Thiago Alcantara has come back in fine form and may be key in this match as he gives something different within a power packed Bayern team. Needless to say I doubt this will be as clear cut as the 2013 semi-final where Bayern won 7-0 on aggregate – a tight contest is in the offing. I’ve said to people I would love a El Classico Finale but I have fancied Bayern from the start of the tournament so I cannot desert them now (even with the injury situation) and if Bayern can cope with the three amigos up top for Barcelona and they get key players back fit to cause the Spanish teams defence problems I can see them prevailing – but only just.
Napoli v Dnipro – Napoli manager, Rafa Benitez, has a wonderful record in European Competition and has already won the Uefa Cup as it was known then in 2004, the Europa Cup with Chelsea in 2013 and of course the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 in a remarkable final in Istanbul which nobody will forget. They have to be favourites against Ukraine’s ‘third team’ who have made it to their first European semi final in any competition, though I am sure they will want to be saying they have made it to their first European final come the final whistle of the second leg, which will take place in their stadium. The first leg here will be key, Napoli have been in an out throughout the season, though their recent good form has come at the right time. I expect them to take a healthy lead to the the Dnipro-Arena and hold out to reach their first European final since winning this competition in its guise as the UEFA Cup 26 years ago.
Sevilla v Fiorentina – What a match up – two heavyweights clash in a game that promises flair, attacking football and goals (surely). The holders are looking to defend the trophy they won in 2014 for the third time in their history after their triumphs in 2006 and 2007 when it was the Uefa Cup. Fiorentina have been a breath of fresh air through this tournament but were not really fancied until they destroyed their fellow Italian rivals Roma 0-3 in their own backyard in the Round of 16, and will be looking to make their first European final since 1990. Both sides have shown strong form throughout the tournament and this will be a tight affair. I can just see the Spanish side prevailing giving them the opportunity to win the trophy in both guises back to back.
Let me know what you think – you can also tweet me @biggishmouth or go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth
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