Event: UEFA Champions League semi final 1st leg
Date: Tuesday, 2nd May 2017
Kick Off: 7:45pm (Nigerian time)
Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain
Real Madrid will host Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final. Los Blancos have met their city rivals in the competition in each of the last four seasons, including in the 2014 and 2016 finals. Real have won on all three previous occasions, including in two finals in 2014 and 2016 as well as a quarter-final in between, so, Diego Simeone’s side will be desperate to avenge the defeats and reach another final.
Marcelo’s first Liga goal since October ensured Madrid stayed level on points with Barcelona at the Spanish top-flight summit. The Brazilian full-back’s late right-footed effort from the edge of the area gave the Merengues the points after Daniel Parejo looked to have earned Valencia a draw. Earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo had headed in Dani Carvajal’s cross to give Madrid the advantage, taking his tally to 20 Liga goals this term – the eighth successive season he has reached that mark.
Meanwhile, Diego Simeone’s men are now 15 matches unbeaten away from home – a run stretching back to December – and have kept nine clean sheets in their last 13 fixtures. Los Rojiblancos prepared for Tuesday in style with a 5-0 win at Las Palmas, where they took an early lead through Kevin Gameiro’s close-range finish and had all but put the game to bed inside 18 minutes thanks to Saúl Ñíguez’s header and Gameiro’s neat finish. Thomas struck the standout goal, rounding off a slick move to net for the first time this season, before substitute Fernando Torres added late gloss.
Real Madrid have the following players out: Bale (calf), Pepe (ribs); and Atletico: Juanfran (hamstring), Giménez (adductor), Fernández (knee), Vrsaljko (knee).
KEY STATISTICS TO BEAR IN MIND AS THE COUNTDOWN TICKS AWAY
-Madrid are through to their seventh consecutive UEFA Champions League semi-final, a competition record.
-It will be their 12th semi-final appearance in total, also a record, one more than Barcelona.
-The Merengues have won five UEFA Champions League semi-finals – and went on to win the trophy on each occasion.
-European champions are unbeaten in 14 European games (W9 D5)
-Madrid ended Atlético’s hopes in past three seasons, twice in final
-Simeone’s men have conceded just three goals in their last 12 matches in all competitions, one of which was against Real in their 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in April. By contrast, Real have kept just two clean sheets since January, a run spanning 19 matches in all competitions.
Zinédine Zidane (Real Madrid): “We’re not favourites. It’s 50-50, as it always is in the knockout stages. We know each other very well. The rivalry with Atleti hasn’t changed since I was a player. It’s a derby in the capital. It’s intense, but the rivalry remains the same.
“We need to do everything well tomorrow. If we do, then we’ll see. Getting to the semis means you’ve done great so far but this is a new game.
Diego Simeone (Atlético Madrid): “I always feel a bit scared before games. I’m isolated from everything, and with the tension it’s normal. You’ve got a lot of responsibility and that gets bigger and bigger. I feel it facing any side – irrespective of the match and opposition.
“They’ll come out strong as they always do at home. They can play in different systems with Isco, James, Asensio. They’ll try and hurt us from the off. We need to be strong and stay as cool as possible. It’ll be tight but hopefully we can take advantage of the spaces we create.
FORM GUIDE (all competitions, most recent first)
Real Madrid: WWLWWW
Atletico Madrid: WLWDWW
VERDICT: Both sides played at this same venue few weeks ago, with their league meeting ending 1-1. Defender Pepe opened the scoring before Griezmann netted an 85th minute equalizer.
Incredibly, this will be the 19th meeting between these sides over the last four seasons and it’s the familiarity that could cause it to be a tight, cagey contest. Both sides know the other’s strengths and how to nullify them.
Coach Simeone will be desperate for his side to score an away goal, aware that his team are virtually impenetrable at home. They’ve kept clean sheets in 18 of their last 21 Champions League home games.
Whether they will be able to find it though is another matter, but they will be given hope by Real Madrid’s failure to keep a clean sheet in all but one of their last 16 outings. Poor! One must admit.
I see Atleti taking a reasonable/favourable scoreline back to the Calderon, perhaps a score draw. At worst, a 2-1 loss which may augur well for them in a week’s time.
RECOMMENDED BETS: X or GG & X2