The elite of European soccer have finally been narrowed down to only four teams, which will compete for a spot in the Champions League final and battle for the crown that declares them the dominant force of the Old Continent.
Two teams from Spain will compete against each other, while Italians and French also fight for a ticket to Wales.
Real Madrid vs. Atlético de Madrid
Giovanna: Yet they meet again, only this time one step before the game that decides who takes glory and who takes disappointment back to the Spanish capital. Repeating the 2014 and 2016 finals, the city rivals seem destined to meet somewhere along the road to the European trophy.
Atlético will face once again its Champions League kryptonite in the pursuit of its first ever trophy, hoping history does not repeat itself and that this is the time they finally get further than just close.
Throughout the competition, Simeone’s men set a record of seven wins, two ties and one loss in 10 games, usually winning by small margins: 1-0 in four of their games. That trend could complicate their chances of eliminating a team like Real Madrid, used to putting big numbers on the scoreboard.
While Atlético has scored a total of 13 goals since the group stage, Madrid scored 28 – more than double. However, the ace up Atlético’s sleeve is their defense, which conceded only five goals throughout the competition while Madrid conceded three times more, a total of 15.
Los blancos’ goal-scoring machines might even beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak, but they will surely have to work hard for that, as the Slovenian has collected six clean sheets in the tournament and constantly proves to be one of the best – and most importantly, decisive – goalkeepers in Europe at the moment.
Madrid will host the first leg of the clash undefeated, with seven wins and three ties, and the advantage of having been superior in both La Liga derbies played this season; they snatched a 3-0 win at the Vicente Calderón last November and suffered a 1-1 tie in April, which could have easily been a win.
This time, with Atlético playing the second leg of the clash before its devoted fan base, advancing is not that surreal of a possibility if they manage a decent result at the Santiago Bernabéu, where a non-scoreless tie would be enough reason to celebrate.
Atlético is past the label of being just a good defensive team, and the soccer gods seem to insist on watching them flirt with a first Champions League title. However, as heartbreaking as it can be for this squad that sweats passion game in and game out, their efforts might not be a match for Madrid. Prediction: Real Madrid advances.
Jose: This is the marquee matchup, as the crosstown rivals met in the Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016. Real defeated Atlético in extra time in 2014 and on penalty kicks in 2016. Real Madrid is coming from a dominating performance against German champions Bayern Munich, so it would be a no brainer to predict them to advance, but after the agonizing last minute defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona last Sunday it will be interesting to see their state of mind.
Atlético Madrid has one of the best coaches in the world in Diego Simeone. They are a coach’s dream. Every player on that squad is prepared to run through a wall for their coach and their teammates.
They might not be the most talented team, but they know what they are about and how they want to play, and it is hard to beat a team with a defined identity. However, Real Madrid has the deepest and most talented squad left in the Champions League and should have no trouble beating their city rivals. Prediction: Real Madrid advances.
Monaco vs. Juventus
Giovanna: The match between the French underdog that rose from qualifying playoffs and the Italian giant that eliminated Barcelona will be a clash of morale; the teams meet each other at a moment of peak performance and high expectations, in what should make for an entertaining converging of styles. Monaco has proved itself throughout the competition, showing that its presence in the semifinals is not merely luck or accidental.
Beating the likes of Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, scoring 21 goals since the group stage – more than Juventus’ 17 – and conquering admirers along the way, they have done more than enough to be worthy of the Italians’ worry.
Despite the incredible momentum, Monaco will have to outdo themselves to beat the undefeated ‘Old Lady’ if they want to make their dream of playing their second ever final a reality, 13 years after the 2004 defeat to José Mourinho’s Porto.
They have accumulated six wins, two ties and two losses throughout the competition, while Juventus won seven and tied three. The Italians can count on a talented squad that is solid in defense, midfield and attack alike, with the highlight of golden boy Paulo Dybala. Their not-so-secret weapon, however, still lies in the legendary man between the posts: 39-year old Gianluigi Buffon, who conceded mere two goals in the competition.
Juventus has the upper hand in that they play the second leg at home, being much more likely to revert an unfavorable result if that is what they get in France and playing on their own terms if the pressure is on Monaco.
The French’s best shot at advancing to the final would be to get a home win without conceding any goals, and managing to score at least one in Turin, having the away goal rule play in their favor. While the first part of the challenge seems doable – they conceded only five goals at home – the second is more unlikely, despite them scoring 12 away goals in the tournament, as Juve conceded a single goal at home in 10 games.
However, for a team that has already made it this far into the competition, unfavorable odds might be the ideal environment for them to thrive. The game can go either way, although the Old Lady is the clear favorite; if Monaco comes out victorious, however, it should not come as a shock. Prediction: Juventus advances.
Jose: Juventus, or the “Old Lady” as they are dubbed by their fans, is a regular semifinalist and has won the tournament twice in their club’s history. Juventus is filled with legendary players like goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defender Giorgio Chiellini or upcoming stars like Juan Cuadrado and Paulo Dybala.
They have the experience and youthfulness to get past this tie. Monaco is the Cinderella team of this tournament; no one expected them to get out of their group, let alone make it this far in the tournament.
They are the highest goal scoring team in Europe, but they are facing the best defense in Europe that just kept Barcelona scoreless over two games in the quarterfinal series. Monaco does not have the experience needed at this stage and that is why Juventus will come out victorious. Prediction: Juventus advances.
Final: Real Madrid vs. Juventus
Giovanna: Thirteen Champions League titles will embellish the clash between Real Madrid – 11 times champion – and Juventus – two times champion – in the small city of Cardiff, Wales, as they face each other in the final for the first time since the 1998 match that ended with the Spaniards victorious with a score of 1-0.
Both teams have killer attacking lineups that might only need a single opportunity to reach the back of the net and break the game open. The offensive volume either team can generate is a force to be reckoned with, and the difference will likely be in the detail: who capitalizes on their momentum, who generates more shots from their opportunities, and who is able to translate opportunities into goals.
Up to the semifinals, Real Madrid has an average of 2.8 goals per game, while Juventus has 1.7, so Zinedine Zidane’s squad has the leverage in putting numbers on the scoreboard as well as in overall attacking statistics (556 vs 477), big chances (16 vs 6), shots on target (75 vs 50) and corners (61 vs 49) – the latter being worrisome when defender Sergio Ramos is having the best attacking season of his career.
In defense, however, the Italians come out on top, accumulating impressive eight clean sheets throughout the competition while Madrid did not manage a single one. Their conceding average is a low 0.2 while the Spaniards have 1.5.
While each team is stronger on one side of the field, they balance each other out at the rest: passing percentage and possession are roughly the same at 87 and 88, and 54 and 51, respectively, for Juve and Madrid. They both know, however, that the rival will be precisely after their weakness and that relying solely on their strength will not make them victorious.
Real Madrid needs to tighten up its defense, which has been lacking consistency and conceding preventable goals, and Juventus needs to ensure their chances reach the back of the net, and hope that forward Gonzalo Higuaín finally breaks through in a decisive game.
For their recent experience in possibly three CL finals in four years and the desire to avenge a national championship put in jeopardy after losing El Clasico to Barcelona, Madrid might become the first team to win two consecutive Champions League titles and beat Juventus at Gareth Bale’s hometown, adding a 12th trophy to its museum.
Jose: This match-up is a mouthwatering defense vs. offense. Two of the biggest teams in European soccer going head to head. They have two totally different approaches to the game, and even their goalkeepers approach the game differently: Buffon prefers to not take risks and is always well positioned, while his counterpart at Real Madrid, Keylor Navas, prefers a more proactive goalkeeping style.
It is interesting that Real Madrid’s experienced players are in the offense and their defense is on the younger side, while Juventus is the exact opposite. These two teams are evenly matched and in big games like this, legendary players have to stand out.
Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best player in the world and can do things that most players can only dream about. He has the power to change the game in a split second and that is going to be the reason why Real Madrid have the edge and will win their 12th Champions League trophy.
Giovanna Z. Rinaldo, a senior journalism major, is editorial director for the Campus Times. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @giozrinaldo.
Jose Brambila, a senior journalism major, is sports editor for the Campus Times. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.