Madrid Enters Double Champions League Battle

Both Real Madrid and Atletico go into their Champions League semi-final ties knowing that things will be tough. Not as tough as Barcelona and Betis are finding things, though.

Last Updated: 22/04/14 at 10:46 Post Comment

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Without wanting to put the boot in to a team when it's down, the fact that Barcelona were busting a gut to beat Athletic Bilbao on Sunday was just another sign of systemic failure for the Catalan club.

Had things been going a little better for the reigning league champions then the players who weren't crocked - a diminishing number with Neymar and Jordi Alba now sidelined - would have been taking it easy and preparing for this week's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.

In an extremely rare moment of foresight and planning by those in charge of the game in Spain, both Clásico teams were due to be given the weekend off after the trials of Wednesday's Copa del Rey clash, should the scenario had arisen.

Instead, Real Madrid were given that luxury having made it past the quarter-finals of the Champions League, something Tata Martino's side failed to achieve. Rather than facing a mouth-watering clash against glamour outfit Valladolid, Carlo Ancelotti was out and about on a weekend stroll, busying himself with attempts to coax Cristiano Ronaldo's tendons and muscles into action ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.

A tie against a very familiar foe will certainly be tough for the La Décima-obsessed side, but slightly less so than a couple of months ago. Madrid's Italian coach has never lost in Europe to the German opponents, and the Bundesliga bogeymen of Schalke and Dortmund were dispatched in previous rounds. Bayern seemed to have gone into hibernation at a most unfortunate time of the season.

Despite the humiliation of having to play this weekend, an under-pressure Barcelona still did the job in the Camp Nou in a clash against a strong Athletic Bilbao outfit, a team chasing fourth place. Although some level of penetrating zippiness had returned to Barcelona's play, there were still scares a'plenty with the Basque visitors holding a 1-0 lead until the 71st minute.

It was at this point that Pedro and Leo Messi popped up to give a win that pretty much prevented the Barcelona fans - just 57,000 of them - from burning the stadium to the ground and adding significant budget costs to the Camp Nou remodelling job. "The supporters are very results-orientated," was the observation from Xavi at the frosty reception for the players and the positively hostile treatment of Cesc Fabregas from some quarters, who must be considering presenting the world with another tedious transfer saga this summer.

Despite the win, Barcelona are still four points behind Atlético Madrid with four games to go, but not entirely out of the running for the league title when considering the Rojiblancos are the visitors to the Camp Nou on the last day of the season. Once again the Rojiblancos showed no signs of at all of choking with another regulation victory. The 2-0 win over Elche, was hard-fought, unspectacular, but inevitable with the clean sheet being their 19th in La Primera this season.

Indeed, Atlético have conceded just one goal in a run of nine La Liga victories in a row, a truly astonishing statistic and a huge reason why there is joy running in the streets that Thibaut Courtois is set to play in Tuesday's Champions League clash with Chelsea.

"I imagine a tight game, decided on details," was the prediction from Diego Simeone on an encounter which might be awful, in a fun way. After all, Atleti's tight defensive record extends to Europe with clean sheets being kept in half of the team's ten Champions League games.

On a huge tangent, the kind of never-say-die attitude as displayed by Atlético all season found its complete opposite in the Betis loss to Rayo over the weekend. Having given an awful back pass to allow the opener, defender Paulao proceeded to score an own goal before requesting his own substitution after just 30 minutes. "Mentally, I was out of the game after two back-to-back mistakes. I was being honest," said the Betis stopper, in a comment that would have made Simeone's eyeballs come flying out of his forehead.

The two Champions League matches featuring Spain's prime Primera pair are going to be curious ones to call. Traditionally, Madrid tend to implode against German teams, and especially Bayern Munich. Atlético Madrid shouldn't even be in the semi-final stages, according to football logic at the beginning of the season, so all bets are off in terms of predictions. It remains to be seen if La Liga's miracle men can carry on their remarkable season outside of Spain.

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter here

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