Action heats up this week with the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals, and C.J. Radune and Joel Forquer of the Prime Sports Network are here to help you prepare for the matches.
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Only four teams remain after an intense quarterfinals stage which saw Real Madrid overcome a two goal deficit against Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid dispose of last year’s champions Barcelona, and Manchester City reach their first ever semifinals by taking down French titans Paris St. Germain. Domestic leagues are entering their final stretch and legs are tired, so the playing field is certainly more level than earlier in the tournament. The winners from two semifinal legs will meet on May 28th at the San Siro Stadium in Italy for a chance at ultimate European glory in lifting the Champions League trophy.
Manchester City (H) vs. Real Madrid (A)
Manchester City, who bagged two valuable away goals in the first leg against PSG, won a hard fought second leg match at home thanks to a Kevin de Bruyne goal in the 76th minute. The Belgian’s goal was the only shot on target for the English side but it was enough to advance City to their first appearance in the UEFA Champions League semifinals. In the Premier League, City currently sit in third place and are fighting for a spot in next year’s Champions League, so their depth will certainly be tested down the stretch. Spanish side Real Madrid find themselves in a similar situation in La Liga, as their recent run of excellent form and three consecutive losses from league leaders Barcelona put them firmly in a three-way title race with fellow Madrid club Atletico. Real Madrid overcame the odds in the second leg after leaving Wolfsburg with a two goal deficit and no away goals. Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroics saved the day for Real Madrid, as the Portuguese forward registered his third hat trick of the tournament. Real Madrid has the edge in form and experience and looks more likely to advance, but at this stage of the tournament, anything is possible.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- Man City – Bacary Sagna D – Defense is going to be critical for Manchester City this week. Cristiano Ronaldo is brimming with confidence after rescuing Real from tumbling out of the tournament, but Manchester City is at home. The spirit of the Etihad and City’s blue army can inspire the team to play at their best, which they will have to do to prevent away goals. If Madrid is able to take goals with them back to Spain (even if it means a loss) City’s hopes of an appearance in the final will be on shaky ground. Sagna has supplanted Pablo Zabaleta as a first-choice defender, and he helped keep PSG off of the score sheet the last time out.
- Real Madrid – Marcelo M – Performance of the midfield can make or break teams. Real Madrid have the firepower up front to score goals, but those strikers need a steady supply of passes to create opportunities. Marcelo has featured the full 90 minutes in all of Madrid’s matches in the knockout phase of the tournament. He has two assists in that span and took four shots in the first leg against Wolfsburg. He should get chance at goal, but can be a valuable feeder of assists to Madrid’s top scorers this week.
Joel’s Players to watch:
- Man City – Sergio Aguero F – City have their best chance to gain an advantage over Real Madrid by playing at home when their star striker is performing at his highest level of the season. Aguero is a top-10 goal scorer across Europe’s five major leagues and has eight goals in his last 10 matches, in all competitions. The only problem? None of those eight goals came during any of the three Champions League matches during that time span. Surprisingly, Aguero only has two goals in Champions League play this season and bagged his most recent one during the first leg Round of 16 match against Dynamo Kyiv back in late February. In seven Champions League appearances this season, he has only put six shots on target. The Argentinian forward will have to find a way to transfer his Premier League prowess to the Champions League in order for City to stand a chance at advancing.
- Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo F – Ronaldo was supposed to be past his prime this season, but he has far outperformed everyone’s expectations. He hasn’t missed a minute, all season, in all La Liga and Champions League matches. His 16 Champions League goals account for over 60% of the team’s total and are double second-place scorers Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, and Luis Suarez, who have eight goals apiece in the competition. In his last 10 matches in all competitions, the Portuguese forward has 13 goals, including one hat trick and one match with four goals. He’s not opposed to dishing the ball to his teammates either and has four assists in that same time frame. Sure he was kept off the scoresheet by Wolfsburg in the first leg of the quarterfinals, but it’s unlikely that lightning will strike twice. Look for Ronaldo to be a force of nature on the pitch in Manchester.
Atletico Madrid (H) vs. Bayern Munich (A)
Atletico knocked incumbent champions Barcelona out of the tournament with a 2-0 win at home in the last round. An Antoine Griezmann brace and Jan Oblak clean sheet secured the victory for Atletico, who are currently in a three-way title race in Spanish La Liga with Real Madrid and Barcelona. Atletico will certainly like their chances at this stage in the tournament having conquered Barcelona, but they will need to rotate the squad to avoid fatigue during this busy and critical period in both their Champions League and La Liga campaigns. Bayern Munich’s second-leg quarterfinal match was slightly less nervy than those of the other semifinalists, as two away goals from Arturo Vidal and Thomas Muller provided the cushion that the German titans needed to advance to the next stage. Bayern Munich remains in line to claim the Bundesliga title if they can fend off second place Borussia Dortmund, who are seven points adrift with four matches left. This leaves the Bavarians with some flexibility to rotate their squad and focus almost exclusively on the Champions League, a luxury that none of the other semifinalists enjoy.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- Atletico – Jan Oblak G – Oblak was Joel’s player to watch in the second-leg match up with Barcelona, and he turned in such an impressive performance that he is my player to watch this time around. A clean sheet against Barcelona is a serious accomplishment, and Oblak produced one when his team needed it the most. He has six total clean sheets (barring penalty shoot-outs) in the tournament so far, and another this week would go a long way to helping Atletico topple the German giants from Munich.
- Bayern – Robert Lewandowski F – Lewandowski has scored eight goals in this Champions League campaign from just 31 shots. In other words, he gets one goal for every four shots he takes. He only played six minutes in the return leg against Benfica, but should be back to full strength and focus this time around. He is an excellent option for manager Pep Guardiola to use, and he should be an important piece of Munich’s strategy in the first leg. The team will be hungry to take away goals back home with them, and Lewandowski is more than capable of supplying them.
Joel’s Players to watch:
- Atletico – Koke M – Koke is the architect of the Atletico midfield and leads La Liga in assists with 13 on the season, with seven in his last 10 matches. He has played an average of three key passes per game in eight Champions League matches, a figure that leads the team by a wide margin. Koke registered an assist against Barcelona in the first leg quarterfinal match and will look to add another, or score a goal of his own, against Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
- Bayern – Arturo Vidal M – Pep Guardiola has plenty of squad depth at his disposal, particularly in the midfield. Vidal, however, has been performing so well lately that Guardiola would be foolish to start him on the bench. In his last five matches, Vidal has three goals and an assist. He scored a goal in each of the quarterfinal matches against Benfica. He has played the full 90 minutes in each of the four Champions League matches since the end of the group stage, which should provide further confidence to fantasy owners. He only played 23 minutes of the midweek DFB Pokal semifinal against Werder Bremen last Tuesday, so barring any last minute hiccups, Vidal should be well rested and ready to go for the Bavarians.
Be sure to tune in this Saturday April 23rd at 2 p.m. ET to hear C.J. and Joel as they are joined by Oulala.com’s Ben Carlotti to preview the first leg of the Champions League semifinals and provide fantasy roster advice to help prove that you are a fantasy football expert.