The Champions League keeps rolling on and I keep being right about everything (I said Barcelona would struggle which is as good as saying they’d lose). To answer your question, no, it does not get exhausting. We’re down to four teams. Only the elite remain. Both semifinals are intriguing clashes of styles, and whoever can impose their will will find themselves in Cardiff June 3rd.
Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid
For what feels like the first time in forever, we’ve got an all-Madrid matchup late in the Champions League. Now, it’s probably become fairly clear that I am not, in fact, a fútbol “expert,” but I am a sports expert, and I’ve seen this scenario play out a million times. Little Brother just can’t beat Big Brother. This is the fourth straight year they’ve played each other in the Champions League. Real Madrid has won every time. Until they can actually beat their cross-town rivals in the Champions League, I see no reason to pick Atletico. They’re like soccer’s version of the Memphis Grizzlies: it’s all grit and grind, ugly, physical, and defensive. Their entire persona is about being smarter and tougher than the opposition to make up for usually having less talent. The only problem is, when three of their more important players are fighting injuries (Juanfran, Sime Vrsaljko, Yannick Carrasco), the task gets even tougher. Real’s high powered attack is firing on all cylinders (last week’s last-second loss to Messi notwithstanding) and is so deep they can easily plug the holes left by Pepe and Gareth Bale’s absences. Add in the serious mental edge Real has and I see only one winner here. It’ll be low scoring and it’ll come down to the end, but, like always, Real will prevail.
(Side Note: We’re approaching my favorite non-international tournament part of the year-round soccer schedule- transfer rumors season. The closer we get to the transfer window, the more often stupid and outlandish headlines come out. I keep getting notifications about how a team (usually Man U, Chelsea, or Arsenal) really wants someone like Antoine Greizmann and is willing to spend x amount of money. Oh, really? Would they also like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? Or it’ll be something like Crystal Palace has a top striker, a top winger, a top midfielder, and a top defender on its wish list. Wow, no way. Really hard hitting stuff. I want to see a rumor that says a team doesn’t want anyone. Or that they aren’t willing to spend $100 million on one guy. At least it’d be different.)
AS Monaco vs. Juventus
A tale as old as time. One of the best offensive teams in the world vs. the best defensive team in the world. A team lead by youngsters and a veteran who found new life against a team of a bunch of old guys. Speed vs. strength. Athleticism vs. guile. Youth vs. experience. Unfortunately for me, the defensive minded, experienced team usually wins, especially if it’s the young team’s first time going so far in a tournament. Juventus could easily stifle and frustrate Monaco, rendering the Greatest Show on Pitch toothless and punchless. But, as mentioned before, Juventus is really old. At some point, Father Time might come for Buffon and the boys. Maybe it happens now, and Monaco runs them off the field. But that’s doubtful. Buffon, Bonucci, Chiellini, and Barzagli have shown absolutely no sign of slowing down any time soon. If they’re allowed to be as physical as they like (i.e., holding and fouling everyone, then looking at the ref with abject shock that people fall over when you trip them and promising retribution for daring to blow the whistle) I think Juventus should make it through fairly easily.