Barcelona vs. Real Madrid
It is amazing how much of a difference six months makes in the world of sports, especially soccer.
After a 5-0 embarrassment to Barcelona about half a year ago, the world was talking about how Real Madrid was out matched, out coached, and brutally out classed by the Catalans in El Clasico. The proclaimed best team in the world certainly showed signs of brilliance and nearly achieved football's version of perfection as David Villa scored twice in this game that saw 13 yellow cards and 1 red card (Sergio Ramos 90'). Would Real Madrid and manager Jose Mourinho be able to right the sinking ship?
Clearly they have...
Now, as we enter the Champions League Semifinal pairings, we see a team who drew 1-1 with Barcelona after going down a man six minutes into the second half. Goals by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the 53rd and 82nd minute respectively, both from the Penalty Spot, were the only goals in this Clasico. Madrid looked like a new team, and were infuriated after the straight red card to Raul Albiol, and focused this energy on attacking, earning them a well deserved draw. This was only the beginning though.
In the Copa del Rey (domestic cup) Final, Real Madrid carried this energy intensity into this game, attacking the Catalans. Most teams will sit back and wait until Barca loses the ball and then tries to build up an offense of their own. Madrid used Pepe to mark Messi as he did in the previous match, and for all intensive purposes, Pepe shut him down, save a few plays by Messi. Mourinho also used Mesut Özil, the German playmaker, to create a brilliant attack that found Ronaldo and Di Maria constantly wide open and in space. After 90 minutes of scoreless action in which Real had the upper hand, Ronaldo struck off a header in Overtime from a double pass between Marcelo and Di Maria. The 1-0 victory should give this Real squad incredible confidence going into the first leg of the CL Semifinals.
We will have to wait and see which Barcelona team shows up... They have the talent to beat any team, but we will see if the play making of Lionel Messi or the Einstein-like coaching of Mourinho prevails to win a trip to the Champions League Final.
Manchester United vs. Schalke
There is not a lot of history between these two teams... They play in different leagues and do not see each other except in the European Tournaments.
United has a six point lead in the Premier League, clearly showing the strength of their side.
Schalke meanwhile, is sitting in 10th in the Bundesliga, with a rocky domestic season, but a rock-solid Champions league so far.
United will be favored no doubt, but do not be surprised if Manuel Neuer, Raul and Co. steal the first leg which is being played in Germany. Neuer has the ability to blank any team, and Raul can be a scoring machine, but will it be enough to defeat the Red Devils?
We will find out shortly.
S04 vs MAN Tuesday April 26 at 2:45 EST
RMD vs BAR Wednesday April 27 at 2:45 EST