Bayern face Atletico battle, Cristiano Ronaldo questions as Madrid face City
Can Atletico Madrid's defence shut down Bayern Munich's high-octane attack? And can Manchester City capitalise on any lingering fitness issues Cristiano Ronaldo may face with Real Madrid?
The Champions League semifinal first legs take centre stage for Europe's heavyweights -- predict the outcome in our match polls ...
ATLETICO MADRID: After taking down Barcelona in the Champions League and chasing them down in the La Liga title race, Atletico go into this game riding the crest of a wave and will be full of confidence when the Bavarians come to town. Fernando Torres has eight goals in his last 14 appearances, while Antoine Griezmann has been the matchwinner in a number of big games of late. Going forward, Los Rojiblancos are a side who can just manage to conjure up a goal out of nothing, and in front of what is bound to be a raucous Calderon they will feel they can once again upset the odds.
The watertight backline will note Diego Godin's absence, but the return of Jose Maria Gimenez could not be better timed. The young Uruguayan, along with 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez, will be faced with the biggest battle of their short careers against Robert Lewandowski and co. They have both risen to all the challenges put before them and Diego Simeone will have every confidence they can do so again this time round.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich -- Joe Walker
BAYERN MUNICH: Whisper it quietly but Bayern would probably much rather have played Real Madrid than their "noisy neighbours" Atletico. Simeone's tenacious, defensively-sound side love a scrap and were hardly the plumb draw in the last four. Bayern expect the sternest challenge against opposition dubbed "a passionate monster" by director of football Matthias Sammer. Pep Guardiola will have to ensure his treble-seeking side are up for a real dogfight in the Vicente Calderon in what he describes as "the best atmosphere in Europe."
The Bavarians must improve on a woeful record on Spanish soil against La Liga sides, winning only two of 12 previous clashes and suffering a whopping eight defeats, including successive semifinal first leg losses against Real (1-0) and Barcelona (3-0) in the past two seasons. Guardiola will hope to avoid an unwanted hat trick in his final crack at the Champions League with Bayern.
The opening joust in Madrid is likely to be a cagey affair. A 0-0 draw is not beyond the realms of possibility, which would be a much healthier result for the Rojiblancos, who'll be content to sit back, defend deep and strike on the counter. Guardiola's side must take advantage of Godin's probable absence at the heart of the Atletico defence and strive for a crucial away goal to take back to Munich.
Atletico Madrid 0-1 Bayern Munich -- Mark Lovell
REAL MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo trained with the squad on Sunday and should be fit to play but Karim Benzema is doubtful after limping off against Rayo on Saturday. Gareth Bale rescued Madrid with a virtuoso performance and appears to have found devastating form at just the right moment. Lucas Vazquez also excelled and if Benzema is ruled out, the former canterano should get the nod to start as his willingness to hassle defenders and direct running on the ball can unsettle City at the back.
Casemiro will be reinstated and charged with the onerous task of shackling Kevin De Bruyne, but the Brazilian's presence allows Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to get forward in support of the front three. Sergio Ramos and Pepe are likely to start at the back to keep an eye on Sergio Aguero, who is worth a goal a game in the Premier League but hasn't replicated that form in Europe this season, scoring just twice. This is City's debut semifinal, and Real's sixth in a row. The visitors' greater experience will tip the balance of the tie, particularly if City concede first on Tuesday and are forced to chase a result at home.
Manchester City 1-2 Real Madrid -- Rob Train
MAN CITY: City's form in the league has picked up markedly over the last three weeks and they reach this unprecedented milestone in their history in good shape, with confidence growing. They have reserved all their best performances for the Champions League this season and in opponents Real Madrid they have the best suited opposition of those left in the tournament. Real will leave spaces at the back which Aguero, De Bruyne and David Silva will be able to exploit if they can all find their very best form.
The likes of Borussia Monchengladbach, Sevilla and Dynamo Kiev will testify to the fact that City in full flow are a real handful, capable of inflicting damage away as well as at home with a coruscating ability to counter attack with speed and numbers. The steep Champions League learning curve is gradually being tamed by Manuel Pellegrini's side. However, a big question mark must be placed alongside City's ability to withstand the nerves such an occasion automatically brings. The club has never reached such exalted heights before, while their regal opponents stand tall in the semifinals for the 27th time.
Will experience hold out or can the novices rock the boat?
Manchester City 2-2 Real Madrid -- Simon Curtis