Anyone want to gather this week to watch games – late lunch 2:45?
GAMES of the WEEK
Mon, Apr 25
3:00 p.m., NBCSN Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Bromwich Albion
Tues, Apr 26 (CHAMPS LEAGUE Final 4)
2:45 pm Fox Sport 1 Man City vs Real Madrid A huge home game for City looking for Champs League home Glory vs UCL stalwart Real
Weds, Apr 27 (CHAMPS LEAGUE Final 4)
2:45 pm Fox Sport 1 Athletico Madrid vs Bayern Munich – Can Atletico pull the upset again at home vs Pep G in his last Champ League with Bayern?
Thurs, Apr 28 (Europa League-Semis)
3 pm FS1 Villareal vs Liverpool – Klopp looks to bring a trophy to Anfield in his first few months – this on the road
3 pm FS2 Shakhtar Donetsk vs Sevilla FC – Can Spain put another team into the Finals?
Champions League Semi’s Tues/Wed 2:45 pm FS1
Bayern face Atletico battle, Cristiano Ronaldo questions as Madrid face City
The Champions League has reached the semifinal stage, with four clubs just one step away from the final.
Can Atletico Madrid’s defence shut down Bayern Munich’s high-octane attack? And can Manchester City capitalise on any lingering fitness issues Cristiano Ronaldo may face with Real Madrid?The Champions League semifinal first legs take centre stage for Europe’s heavyweights — predict the outcome in our match polls …
ATLETICO MADRID: After taking down Barcelona in the Champions League and chasing them down in the La Liga title race, Atletico go into this game riding the crest of a wave and will be full of confidence when the Bavarians come to town. Fernando Torres has eight goals in his last 14 appearances, while Antoine Griezmann has been the matchwinner in a number of big games of late. Going forward, Los Rojiblancos are a side who can just manage to conjure up a goal out of nothing, and in front of what is bound to be a raucous Calderon they will feel they can once again upset the odds.The watertight backline will note Diego Godin’s absence, but the return of Jose Maria Gimenez could not be better timed. The young Uruguayan, along with 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez, will be faced with the biggest battle of their short careers against Robert Lewandowski and co. They have both risen to all the challenges put before them and Diego Simeone will have every confidence they can do so again this time round.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich — Joe Walker
BAYERN MUNICH: Whisper it quietly but Bayern would probably much rather have played Real Madrid than their “noisy neighbours” Atletico. Simeone’s tenacious, defensively-sound side love a scrap and were hardly the plumb draw in the last four. Bayern expect the sternest challenge against opposition dubbed “a passionate monster” by director of football Matthias Sammer. Pep Guardiola will have to ensure his treble-seeking side are up for a real dogfight in the Vicente Calderon in what he describes as “the best atmosphere in Europe.”The Bavarians must improve on a woeful record on Spanish soil against La Liga sides, winning only two of 12 previous clashes and suffering a whopping eight defeats, including successive semifinal first leg losses against Real (1-0) and Barcelona (3-0) in the past two seasons. Guardiola will hope to avoid an unwanted hat trick in his final crack at the Champions League with Bayern.The opening joust in Madrid is likely to be a cagey affair. A 0-0 draw is not beyond the realms of possibility, which would be a much healthier result for the Rojiblancos, who’ll be content to sit back, defend deep and strike on the counter. Guardiola’s side must take advantage of Godin’s probable absence at the heart of the Atletico defence and strive for a crucial away goal to take back to Munich. Atletico Madrid 0-1 Bayern Munich — Mark Lovell
REAL MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo trained with the squad on Sunday and should be fit to play but Karim Benzema is doubtful after limping off against Rayo on Saturday. Gareth Bale rescued Madrid with a virtuoso performance and appears to have found devastating form at just the right moment. Lucas Vazquez also excelled and if Benzema is ruled out, the former canterano should get the nod to start as his willingness to hassle defenders and direct running on the ball can unsettle City at the back.Casemiro will be reinstated and charged with the onerous task of shackling Kevin De Bruyne, but the Brazilian’s presence allows Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to get forward in support of the front three. Sergio Ramos and Pepe are likely to start at the back to keep an eye on Sergio Aguero, who is worth a goal a game in the Premier League but hasn’t replicated that form in Europe this season, scoring just twice. This is City’s debut semifinal, and Real’s sixth in a row. The visitors’ greater experience will tip the balance of the tie, particularly if City concede first on Tuesday and are forced to chase a result at home.Manchester City 1-2 Real Madrid — Rob Train
MAN CITY: City’s form in the league has picked up markedly over the last three weeks and they reach this unprecedented milestone in their history in good shape, with confidence growing. They have reserved all their best performances for the Champions League this season and in opponents Real Madrid they have the best suited opposition of those left in the tournament. Real will leave spaces at the back which Aguero, De Bruyne and David Silva will be able to exploit if they can all find their very best form.The likes of Borussia Monchengladbach, Sevilla and Dynamo Kiev will testify to the fact that City in full flow are a real handful, capable of inflicting damage away as well as at home with a coruscating ability to counter attack with speed and numbers. The steep Champions League learning curve is gradually being tamed by Manuel Pellegrini’s side. However, a big question mark must be placed alongside City’s ability to withstand the nerves such an occasion automatically brings. The club has never reached such exalted heights before, while their regal opponents stand tall in the semifinals for the 27th time.Will experience hold out or can the novices rock the boat? Manchester City 2-2 Real Madrid — Simon Curtis
Champions League, Europa League W2W4: Real’s hopes rest on Ronaldo
With the Champions League and Europa League semifinal second legs this week, Miguel Delaney recaps the storylines worth watching.
How important is Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid’s chance of progress?
The big storyline ahead of Real Madrid’s trip to Manchester City on Tuesday is Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness
, but it leads to an even bigger question about the Spanish team, and one that could decide the entire Champions League season itself. Do Zinedine Zidane’s team have any chance without the Portuguese even at his best? He’s been that good again, that dominant. Ronaldo’s recurring injury problems and flatter performances had actually led to a growing suspicion he could be definitively past his peak. Certainly, when Lionel Messi recaptured the Ballon d’Or in January, it didn’t feel like the Real striker would ever be getting it back. That could change, because Ronaldo has changed the tone of this season.
While Messi’s Barcelona are now out of the Champions League, his great rival ensured the same fate did not befall Real by scoring a brilliant hat trick to beat Wolfsburg 3-2 on aggregate, again canceling out his team’s problems on his own. It symbolised a comeback in so many ways, and only followed his fine first-leg goal against Roma in the round of 16. It also felt like he was on something of a one-man mission, but that is possibly because he knows so much of this will decide one man’s legacy. Because, for all the goals that Ronaldo has hit in his seven years in Madrid, he has only really won two major trophies: one league and one Champions League.It is oddly underwhelming given his personal contribution, but another European Cup — and second in three years — would clearly overrule that. If he is not even fully fit, however, he will have to depend on his teammates to temporarily step up. That is because, so far in this knockout stage, Real’s games have come down to a balance between the team’s problems and Ronaldo’s prolific strike rate.
So much of Manchester City’s run to a first Champions League semifinal has been framed around what might unexpectedly be the ultimate happy ending for manager Manuel Pellegrini before he leaves in the summer — but even that has taken on a deeper dimension. The Chilean could yet win the competition by eliminating the last team that sacked him in Real Madrid, and then his successor, if Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich get past Atletico. It would be some redemption tour.To get that far, though, Pellegrini is probably going to have to come up with something rather different. Most of his management — and particularly his respectable time at Real in 1999-00 — has been characterised by getting an array of attacking players into a workable and attractive system. If he leans on that against the current Real, though, City are likely to be torn apart on the break. So, he has to innovate a bit, and probably defensively. There were signs of it in the second half of the quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain, when City’s defence held firm. They will have to get even tighter here. Pellegrini is likely going to have to show Real something they didn’t see during his time there. It could yet see him into the final.
As he seeks to finally win what would be a career-defining Champions League with Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola fittingly faces a legacy-defining challenge. The Catalan probably would have been the first manager to retain the trophy since Arrigo Sacchi had it not been for the intense defending of Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the 2009-10 semifinals, in what was the ultimate clash of opposing philosophies.Guardiola now comes up against a side that might actually be an upgrade on that Serie A defence, and are certainly the closest to them in style. It was actually the attacking style the Catalan himself instilled at Barcelona that initiated a new era in Champions League football, influencing goal averages to shoot up. The newly open football of the competition seemed to favour attacking teams — until Diego Simeone started shutting them down.The modern game hasn’t seen locked-down defending like it for some time, and it is as if they’ve given modern attacks problems they’ve forgotten how to solve. The new Barca certainly found that in the quarterfinals, as not even Messi could get past Atletico’s supreme defence. Guardiola is now going to have to figure out how. It represents possibly the most intriguing tactical duel the competition has seen in half a decade, and is a challenge so fitting of this stage. If Guardiola gets through this, he will really have earned this Champions League.
Atletico aren’t all about brilliant defending, and neither was their win over Barcelona. It was settled by the growing star that gives that defending the ultimate outlet: Antoine Griezmann’s burning pace. Barca couldn’t handle it, and it has even been a factor in releasing Fernando Torres to return to levels more like his old self. It is little wonder Chelsea and Manchester United are now chasing the French star, as are so many trailing defenders.He is so promising. He now just needs to properly fulfil that promise, by producing even bigger moments. Beating Barcelona should be the start. He now needs to make it even more consistent against the top sides, although Bayern could suit him in that regard. Guardiola’s high line could be especially susceptible to his speed. Atletico need him to fly. The only possible criticism you could have of Simeone’s side is that they are too dependent on narrow wins, that there is always a danger the 1-0s could become 0-0s, and they aren’t quite cutting enough. If anyone can change that, an evolving Griezmann can.
After Liverpool’s sensational comeback against Borussia Dortmund, it seemed like their Europa League campaign enjoyed another boost, as they avoided competition specialists Sevilla. That could be a dangerous line of thought, because it’s possible Villarreal are a bigger threat than anyone. Sevilla may be aiming for a third successive Europa League, but they are three Liga places below Marcelino’s side, who have arguably put in better performances this season than Dortmund.Villarreal have beaten both Real and Atletico — who they are unbeaten against in the league — and also claimed a draw off Barcelona. If they replicate those performances, it will likely be too much for Liverpool, who made need another epic response. Either way, it sets up a tie that could yet, somehow, be as entertaining as the quarterfinal.Miguel Delaney is a London-based correspondent for ESPN FC and also writes for the Irish Examiner and others. Follow him on Twitter@MiguelDelaney.
David Mooney: Manchester City have never really got going throughout the Premier League 2015-16 but Manuel Pellegrini’s side have really excelled in Europe. It feels like their breakthrough season in the competition.
Ed Alvarez: The semifinals couldn’t have arrived at a better moment for Real Madrid. Since Zinedine Zidane’s team won at the Camp Nou three weeks ago, they have finally started to play at the level that was expected from such a talented squad. The French coach has found a solid lineup and has also instilled a sizeable dose of motivation into the side. The positive results have fuelled a great atmosphere.
DM: This could be a crucial factor in the tie. Madrid could be without one of their most influential players and missing Ronaldo would be huge. He was the man who turned the tie at the Bernabeu in 2012 when City lost 3-2 and he’s got more goals than he’s made appearances for the Spanish side. With City’s struggling defence, it’d be a relief to see him miss out.
EA: Two stats show how instrumental Ronaldo is for Real Madrid, as well as how the team fare without him. In the last seven seasons, Real have scored 2.95 goals per match when he played and 2.47 when he was absent. As David mentioned, Ronaldo scores more than one goal per match, so numbers say the team only picks up half of that when he is not available. On top of his scoring, the Portuguese has recovered his ability to tear teams apart on the left flank. Although Real Madrid’s bench is strong, Ronaldo is irreplaceable.
DM: This is new ground for City and it would be fresh for the competition to see them go all the way to the final. Whether or not it’s romantic that Pellegrini’s side are progressing is a different matter, especially given the money that’s needed to be spent to do it, but it would be a fairytale ending for the season, especially with it being the manager’s last year in charge. What better legacy could he leave than overcoming the odds and getting past his old team to win the competition?
EA: Real Madrid have played 13 Champions League or European Cup finals, winning 10 of them. In terms of credentials to play a final of the tournament, those are second to none. In addition to that, making the final with the scorer of that stunning winning goal back in 2002 in the dugout and the competition’s top scorer ever on the pitch — Ronaldo has scored 93 times in this competition — and a whopping 16 this season — seems fair.
DM: For his time at City, the answer is both yes and no. In his first season, he didn’t get the credit he deserved for turning around a divided dressing room and pulling the squad together to win the club’s first league and cup double. However, since then, he’s underwhelmed. City shouldn’t be scrambling to make the top four and they shouldn’t be out of the title race by February.
EA: In Madrid, absolutely yes. In his first and only season with Real Madrid, he took the team to 96 points in La Liga. In the history of the league, only Jose Mourinho’s side two years later and two Barcelona teams have earned more points. That Pellegrini squad also scored more than 100 goals in La Liga for the first time since 1990. He paid the price for a shocking Copa del Rey elimination to Alcorcon, at that point in the Spanish equivalent to the third division, which prompted a sector of the media to go after him mercilessly.
DM: This has to be Pellegrini. Zidane is still in the infancy of his managerial career and building a great reputation, having turned around Madrid’s fortunes. Pellegrini, meanwhile, has been going downhill at City for two of his three seasons. The Chilean needs to make the final to protect his legacy with his club.
EA: I agree with David. Zidane has already shown enough promise to keep his job next season. However, Pellegrini’s unclear future at this point would become less daunting if he takes City to the Champions League final. He would leave on a very high note.
EA: 2-2. Both teams have average defences. The match should become a frantic, two-way contest, with plenty of scoring chances and a great watch for the neutrals.
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