Champions League semifinals begin with another Madrid derby
ABS-CBN Sports on May 02, 2017 10:56 AM
(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — The Champions League semifinals this week begin with Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid meeting for the fourth consecutive time in the competition, while Monaco will try to keep Juventus from returning to the final for the second time in three seasons.
Juventus lost the final to Barcelona two years ago, and Real lifted the trophy last year in a repeat final against Atletico. Real also beat the city rival in the 2014 final and the quarterfinals in 2015.
Here is a look at the semifinals this week:
REAL MADRID vs. ATLETICO MADRID
With a team that has looked vulnerable in recent matches, Real hosts Atletico looking to extend its dominance over its crosstown rival and reach the final for the third time in four seasons.
Real's regular starters have struggled going into Tuesday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where Zinedine Zidane's team needed a late goal to beat Valencia at home in the Spanish league over the weekend. It conceded late in a loss to Barcelona last week and needed extra time to eliminate Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals two weeks ago.
But Real has a winning record against Atletico in European competitions, beating its rival in a penalty shootout in last season's final to secure a record 11th European Cup title. Two years earlier, it beat Atletico after extra time in the final. In the quarterfinals in 2015, it edged Atletico 1-0 on aggregate before losing to Juventus in the semifinals.
"It will be a very tough and hard-fought game, and just like our most recent meetings, it will come down to details," Real right back Dani Carvajal said.
Zidane, who won the Champions League as a player with Real, has a chance to lift the trophy for the second straight time as a coach, less than 18 months since making his debut as a manager.
"There is always extra motivation because we are playing in a Champions League semifinal," Zidane said. "We're used to playing in this type of game and hopefully we'll get off to a good start tomorrow (Tuesday).
Atletico coach Diego Simeone will have to find a way to stop Cristiano Ronaldo and Real's other stars to earn another shot at the trophy. A triumph this season would establish Atletico as a top European club, and silence critics who say the team's recent successes have been flukes. Atletico also lost the 1974 final, that time to Bayern Munich.
"It will be a very complex game," Simeone said. "We will need to take advantage of our chances."
Simeone's stout defense will be key again this season, and it has been peaking recently with only four goals conceded in 12 matches, although injuries to players such as Jose Gimenez and Juanfran Torres could pose a challenge.
In attack, Simeone will count on French duo Kevin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann, who have had an up-and-down season so far.
"We are excited about our chances," Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez said. "We know it's going to be difficult for both teams."
MONACO vs. JUVENTUS
Monaco is looking to make it to the Champions League final for the first time since 2004, and it found an ideal sparring partner in Toulouse this weekend ahead of Wednesday's first leg against Juventus.
Monaco played its best French league match in a month to win 3-1 against a well-organized team.
Unstoppable in recent weeks, teenage striker Kylian Mbappe again stole the headlines as he scored his 18th goal in his last 18 games. Radamel Falcao was not on the scoresheet, but was a threat throughout. Mbappe and Falcao have combined for 52 goals this season in a thrilling partnership.
Monaco's best asset this season has been its attacking potency, with 146 goals in all competitions, but the French faces its sternest test so far against Juventus.
Monaco, which lost the 2004 final to FC Porto, is enjoying its best run in the competition since being eliminated by Juventus in the quarterfinals in 2015.
The Italian champion is trying to reach its second final in three years, and win its first title in more than two decades.
Juventus looked strangely lackluster during Friday's 2-2 draw at Atalanta in Serie A, with coach Massimiliano Allegri admitting that it wasn't the usual performance he expected from his players.
But the test against a determined young side perfectly set up Juventus for the trip to Monaco.
"The game against Atalanta was useful for Wednesday night in that Monaco operates in a similar way," Juventus midfielder Juan Cuadrado said. "Both teams have very good young players who look to play quickly and put you under a lot of pressure. We need to show our usual solidity, focus and desire all over the field because it will be a very difficult match."
Juventus will be without suspended Germany midfielder Sami Khedira.
AP Sports writers Samuel Petrequin in Paris and Daniella Matar in Milan contributed to this report.
More AP Champions League coverage: http://apne.ws/2lgcPZm
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni