Storied clubs set to pack Champions League semifinals
The Champions League semifinals could feature four of the five most successful teams in European soccer’s elite competition.
Real Madrid, which lifted the European Cup for a record-extending 12th time last season, holds a 3-0 lead over Juventus heading into Wednesday’s quarterfinal second leg.
Liverpool and Barcelona — both five-time European champions — also enjoy three-goal advantages. On Tuesday, Barcelona heads to AS Roma 4-1 in front, and Liverpool goes to Manchester City leading 3-0.
The closest contest for a spot in the last-four will be in Munich on Wednesday. Bayern, another five-time winner, only managed to build a 2-1 lead at Sevilla.
With a sixth Bundesliga title wrapped up on Saturday, Bayern’s only domestic concern is a German Cup semifinal later this month.
The main target is winning the Champions League for the first time since Jupp Heynckes claimed a treble in his last season before retiring in 2013.
Drafted in for a fourth stint as coach in October, Heynckes is determined to retire for good in May.
Such is Bayern’s dominance that it was able to clinch the Bundesliga with five games to spare by beating Augsburg 4-1 while resting Robert Lewandowski, Thiago Alcantara, Mats Hummels, Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller for the visit of Sevilla.
The Spanish team travels to Bavaria at low ebb, having lost four consecutive matches in all competitions since stunning Manchester United in the round of 16.
“We are in a key part of the season, we can’t let our guard down,” said Sevilla defender Daniel Carrico, whose side lost 4-0 at Celta Vigo on Saturday. “We have to turn the page because we have a chance to make history in our next game. We are disappointed, but have to find a way to move on and keep alive our hopes of reversing the result against Bayern.”
Like Bayern, Manchester City had a chance to secure the domestic title. It failed.
Leading Manchester United 2-0 at halftime, the Premier League trophy seemed to be in the bag for Pep Guardiola. That’s until a three-goal collapse mirroring last week’s Champions League loss to Liverpool .
Regardless of the 3-2 loss to United, City will undoubtedly win the Premier League.
But given that City missed out on the symbolic derby title win after key talent started on the bench — including Kevin De Bruyne — Guardiola can only show the gamble was worth it by making a comeback against Liverpool.
A 4-0 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium would be enough to take City’s players through. It’s not such a daunting proposition since City has already beaten Juergen Klopp’s side 5-0 at home in the league this season.
Liverpool will be missing suspended Jordan Henderson, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to replace the captain in an untested midfield combination.
“We are not going to sit back,” Wijnaldum said. “We are going to play our game. That is what we always do.”
Zinedine Zidane has a big question over who to play in central defense.
The Real Madrid coach will be without the suspended Sergio Ramos and the injured Nacho Fernandez. It’s also unclear whether back-up option Jesus Vallejo, because of an unspecified injury, will be available alongside Raphael Varane.
“I’m not sure what we will do,” Zidane said. “We have to see how Jesus is. He felt something during training (on Saturday). When a player is bothered by an injury, we can’t take any risks. Hopefully he will be fine for Wednesday, but if not we will figure out what to do.”
If Vallejo can’t play, Zidane may have to improvise with Casemiro as a central defender.
While Madrid has slipped to fourth in the Spanish standings after being held 1-1 by Atletico Madrid, Juventus is marching toward a seventh straight Serie A title and still convinced it can pull off an upset at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
“My teammates are men that never give up,” Juventus striker Paulo Dybala said.
Barcelona is closing in on a first trip to the semifinals since winning the competition three years ago.
It’s already been a dream first season in charge for Ernesto Valverde, with Barcelona unbeaten in the Spanish league and 11 points in front with seven games remaining.
In the quarterfinals for the first time in a decade, Roma isn’t even sure it will be back in the Champions League next season.
The Italian capital club only has a one-point hold on the fourth Champions League place from Serie A. But when Barcelona comes to Rome, the hosts are likely to have Radja Nainggolan back in the side after the midfielder missed the 3-0 first-leg loss at Camp Nou with a leg injury.
AP Champions League coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague