Champions League: Semifinal draw yields power matchups, grand finals
The Champions League draw took place Friday morning and kept alive the possibility of a final that could see Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho continue their rivalry, a Bayern Munich-Chelsea rematch two years after Didier Drogba's heroic performance or an all-Madrid encounter in Lisbon.
Here is the breakdown of the two huge semifinal matchups:
Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
These two teams have met in five European Cup semifinals, the last of which, in 2012, Bayern edged past on penalty kicks before losing the final to Chelsea in the same way. For Real Madrid to win La Decima -- its 10th European title -- it can also look back to history: the last two occasions it won this competition (2002 and 1998), it beat Bayern in the semifinals.
This is a modern-day, cross-national rivalry like no other in club football, and though coaches Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti are far too diplomatic to let things get out of hand, there has been plenty of controversy in the past. As recently as 2012, Franz Beckenbauer described Madrid's then coach Jose Mourinho as "rude and loutish" while former Bayern president Uli Hoeness called Madrid "a circus" during the 2002 battle, when the Spanish press portrayed Bayern as anti-football.
Both sides can claim some high ground about their current style of football, while this week's second legs show both are fallible: Bayern's weakness at the back is often a simple matter of (lack of) numbers while Madrid was relieved to escape from Dortmund with a 3-2 aggregate win.
Both teams' obvious strength is on the wings, with perhaps the world's four greatest wide players -- Ronaldo, Bale, Ribery and Robben, a former Real Madrid player himself -- between them. But Madrid might have to cope without Ronaldo, currently struggling with a hamstring tear, for the first leg. That could be decisive.
"Of the three, for their resources, for being champions, they were the one we wanted least. But we have got them," club ambassador Emilio Butragueno told Spanish TV. "Guardiola has many options which can win any game. But so do we. This is one of the best games you can see in the world."
Bayern is Europe's best team at keeping possession while Madrid is the best counterattacking side. Both coaches have the chance of winning a third Champions League from the dugout - while whoever wins will be a big favorite for the final.
Tipped to progress: Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea
Atletico coach Diego Simeone has turned his team into something resembling cup specialists, winning the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and the European Super Cup (beating Chelsea 4-1 in that game) in the last three seasons. This season's greatest achievement has been maintaining similar consistency to keep it top of La Liga as well, but Simeone's talent in knockout ties - even without Diego Costa, Atletico battered Barcelona in this week's quarterfinal second leg - will not be underestimated by Mourinho.
"The kings of winning ugly" is how Spanish newspaper Marca described Mourinho's Chelsea, with the Portuguese manager reaching the last four in the Champions League an impressive eight times in the last 10 seasons. But for the last three years he has fallen at this stage.
"Mou is in his element on these sorts of occasions. He has nothing to learn from anyone," wrote Marca.
Much of the build-up will focus on Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea's goalkeeper currently on loan at Atletico Madrid. Officials from both clubs have suggested that Courtois will start, despite clauses suggesting a payment be due to Chelsea if he does, and it will be a chance for Chelsea fans to compare him close up to Petr Cech, who plenty believe would be second in the pecking order to the Belgian were it not for his (well-deserved) senior status at the club.
"In terms of quality, the goalkeeper that reminds me most of Petr Cech is Thibaut Courtois," Chelsea's goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon told So Foot before the draw took place. "I would not say he is the new Petr Cech because he is a one-off, but he is a guy that will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world."
Also significant will be the fitness of each team's key men this season: Eden Hazard for Chelsea and Costa for Atletico. Costa has a slightly better chance of being ready for the first leg, and will need to be watched closely, not just because he's a Chelsea target for the summer. Under Simeone, he has progressed from a dangerous second striker/winger last season to perhaps the most complete center forward in Europe.
This is likely to be a more cautious affair than the other semiinal, and could be decided by the smallest of margins. Atletico's draw - beating AC Milan while Chelsea beat Galatasaray, then Barcelona as opposed to PSG - has arguably been tougher in each of the knockout rounds, and both sides are already fighting for underdog status.
The truth is once you reach the semifinal, no one is an underdog: and for all the talk about Courtois and his future, short- and long-term, it would not be a surprise for this tie to go to penalties: Then we really will be able to argue each goalkeeper's case.
Tipped to progress: Chelsea, on penalties