And then there were four.
This season’s UEFA Champions League has been a cracker, but we are now approaching the end game with a quartet of supremely talented sides battling it out for place in the final at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Who’ll gain a first leg advantage? Here’s Adrian Clarke with his pre-match thoughts… Also, be sure to stay up to speed with the Champions League bets.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid | 2 May 19:45
Diego Simeone insists revenge isn’t on his mind, but there’s no way he’ll be viewing Tuesday’s first leg clash with Real Madrid as anything other than serious payback time.
On three occasions in as many years, twice in the final, Atletico Madrid’s dreams of Champions League glory have been squashed by their illustrious neighbours, and the prospect of a fourth painful exit at their hands is unimaginable.
If ever a football team was ‘up for it,’ you need to look no further than Atleti.
Are they actually good enough to land a telling blow at the Santiago Bernabeu? Yes, I believe they are, and at 7/2 you do get reasonable odds.
There is the holders curse to consider (no team has ever successfully defended this competition), but the real grounds for optimism are that keeping clean sheets is a cause for alarm with Real Madrid at the moment.
Playing an open, expansive style, they have shut the opposition out just once in 15 matches in all competitions. They always give you chances.
In a two-legged tie where away goals count double, that feels like it might be a problem.
No one expects Atletico to pile forward recklessly at the Bernabeu, and they won’t have swathes of possession, but once inside the final third they do have the quality to punish Real’s fragilities.
I’m certain Zinedine Zidane would love to have compatriot Antoine Griezmann in his dressing room. The lethal French striker is available at 13/5 to score. That seems good solid value for a predator that often only needs half a chance to strike.
Considering Los Blancos have scored in a record-breaking 57 matches in succession, the goalless draw should probably be considered a very long shot at 8/1. But every run has to come to an end eventually, doesn’t it?
With a rigid defence that will be highly focused on nullifying the home side’s familiar star turns, plus Griezmann, a first leg score of 0-1 (at 11/1) isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
It’s not as if Simeone hasn’t done it before. The Argentine has inspired La Liga victories at the Bernabeu in three of the last four domestic campaigns.
Real Madrid are hotly fancied for good reason of course, and there will be plenty of money bet on Cristiano Ronaldo to predictably find the net in an expected home win, at 37/20.
But don’t underestimate the power of vengeance.
This Atletico Madrid team will put everything on the line to ensure they don’t suffer again.
Monaco v Juventus | 3 May 19:45
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? I think we are about to find out at the Stade Louis II on Wednesday evening.
Monaco have been a joy to behold in this competition, flying forward with a level of speedy panache that’s been far too hot for most opponents to handle. In the French principality alone, they’ve scored 16 goals in seven fixtures.
Radamel Falcao (2/1 to score anytime) is back to his razor-sharp best under the positive influence of head coach Leonardo Jardim, and the Colombian’s teenage strike partner Kylian Mbappe is a revelation.
Tipped to one-day eclipse the standards set by Thierry Henry, the 18-year-old already has 23 goals this term and looks every inch the mega star in the making. To prise him away from Monaco, European football’s giants will have to stump up a world record fee in excess of £100million. Yep, he’s that good.
Mbappe has struck goals in each of his last four Champions League starts, and is 9/5 to continue his hot streak. Can he, and his flamboyant teammates breach the almighty Juventus defence though?
The Old Lady, coached by the astute Max Allegri, shut out Barcelona over two legs with relative ease, and have conceded just twice across 10 matches in the competition.
There will be plenty of shrewd punters eyeing up the 21/10 on Monaco failing to score in this first leg. In terms of taking a lead back to Turin, history is against Juventus. They have only won one of 11 European Cup semi-finals away from home.
Here, I think they are good enough claim a draw, with 1-1 my favoured result. (23/4)
Over two legs I strongly fancy the Italian champions to be just too savvy for Monaco, who aren’t convincing at the back. But they should not expect an easy ride. The Ligue One title chasers are one of very few sides on the continent that are capable of forcing the imperious Bonucci and Chiellini to get a sweat on.
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