The UEFA Champions League resumes this week with the second leg of the semifinals.
Sportsnet’s panel of soccer writers and broadcasters preview both of this week’s matches and offer their predictions.
Real Madrid vs. Juventus
Gerry Dobson, Sportsnet: So Real Madrid has conceded the La Liga title to Barcelona. Considering they are four points back with just two matches remaining, it’s certainly a pragmatic approach, and the public declaration by defender Dani Carvajal also serves to take the pressure off the club so they can fully focus on making it to the Champions League final. An odd weekend draw vs. Valencia, which included a Cristiano Ronaldo missed penalty and three shots off the woodwork, was also marked by a strong performance by the number one scapegoat around the Santiago Bernabeu, none other than Gareth Bale. That’s good news for Real Madrid, as they will need all hands on deck for the return leg vs. Juventus.
And speaking of teams that no longer have the domestic league to worry about, how about Juventus? In contrast to Real Madrid who have logically given up, Juventus are by far the best team in Italy and clinched the Serie A title last weekend. Even better news, Paul Pogba scored on his return from two months out injured as the champions drew 1-1 with Cagliari on the weekend. Do not underestimate the value of Pogba in the Juventus lineup. With Real Madrid having scored a crucial away goal in the first leg and now playing at home, you get the feeling Juventus are going to have to score a road goal themselves.
If any team in Europe can shut down Real Madrid’s offence, it might be Juventus, who have a better goal difference of more than double the next best team in Italy. They’ve conceded just 20 goals in 35 matches in the league.
Prediction: A 1-1 draw, Juventus advances.
Real Madrid vs. Juventus
John Molinaro, Sportsnet.ca: Full disclosure: I’ve been a diehard Juventus fan since childhood, and I am beyond excited about the prospect of the bianconeri advancing to their first Champions League final in 12 years. I was going to write about Bayern vs. Barcelona, but James Sharman mistakenly wrote about that game—even though I assigned him to do the Real Madrid vs. Juve match. Read your emails more closely next time, Sharms!
Can Juve finish what they started last week when they earned a 2-1 win in the first leg in Turin? I think they can. Some pundits, including my colleague Gerry Dobson, believe the Italians probably need a goal on Wednesday to secure their passage through to the final. I don’t agree. I think the key for Juventus is to keep Real off the score sheet, and considering they boast one of the best defensive records in all of European club soccer, they’re more than capable of doing that—even at the Bernabeau against a Real Madrid side boasting Cristiano Ronaldo.
For 90 minutes last week in Turin, Juventus thwarted Real at almost every turn with a brilliant defensive performance—Ronaldo’s goal was a gift, as Leonard Bonucci didn’t pick him up. Aside from that, the Portuguese star had a quiet night, as did Gareth Bale. Juventus’ defensive organization and management of the game—keeping Real in front of them at all times—proved very effective. If the Italians can duplicate that performance in Madrid, they’ll win the tie.
Prediction: A 0-0 draw, Juventus advances.
Bayern Munich vs. FC Barcelona
James Sharman, Sportsnet: I am torn on this one. On one hand, I was overawed by Lionel Messi’s three minutes from heaven and by how brilliant Barcelona’s overall performance was in the first leg. Having said that, as Pep Guardiola argued, despite his former team’s bossing of the match, his current side was 20 minutes or so away from a very good result.
On the other hand, I am left a little empty, given how Bayern’s injury situation has really taken a large dose of magic out of this one. Had the Germans hung on last week, we’d have been celebrating a wonderful tie, where Bayern Munich, despite missing so many world-class footballers, had shown incredible guile and verve, setting us up for something special in the second leg.
Alas, here we are fully expecting a Barcelona stroll to the final. As I pointed out in last Thursday’s Soccer Central podcast, we have been in this situation before, though, and as Porto will attest, write off the Bavarians at your peril. Sadly, Porto is not Barcelona, and by the end of 90 minutes on Tuesday, I suspect we’ll be considering the very real possibility that Luis Enrique’s Barcelona has reached the levels of Pep’s Barca of three years ago.
Prediction: A 2-2 draw, Barcelona advances.
Bayern Munich vs. FC Barcelona
Dan Riccio, Sportsnet 590 The FAN: The opportunity is still there for Barcelona to complete the treble. The La Liga title is in reach with one more result, and the same goes for the Copa Del Rey, and reaching the Champions League final in Berlin. Barcelona are not about to let up, while the situation at Bayern has not changed. They continue to struggle, losing again on the weekend in Bundesliga play to Augsburg at home. Guardiola’s side seems to have run out of gas, and a long list of injuries have not helped their situation.
Barcelona continue to wow football fans with Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez, but a big reason for their success this season is their defence. They have conceded three goals just twice, both coming in the early half of the campaign. And, oh yeah, they haven’t allowed a single goal since April 15. Bayern have too big a hole to climb out of in this one.
Prediction: Barcelona wins 2-1 to advance