The UEFA Champions League will once again take center stage in world football as two thrilling second legs are scheduled to take place between four of football's biggest teams.
It was the two German clubs—Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund—who triumphed at home over their Spanish opponents—Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively—in the first leg, and will carry key advantages here heading into their return fixtures at Camp Nou and the Bernabeu respectively.
However, both Barcelona and Madrid are extremely talented sides and are more than capable of erasing any deficit against them—regardless of their opposition on the night.
As a result, we're in for two thrilling Champions League semifinals that will provide for us two worthy teams to battle it out at Wembley Stadium in the final next month.
Just who those two teams are, however, still remains to be seen.
Read on to see the biggest storylines to watch out for in the respective second legs this week and how that will impact the European dream of all four football clubs.
2013 Champions League Schedule
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
|Wednesday, May 1, 2013|
|Time:||2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)||2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)|
|Venue:||Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid, Spain||Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain|
|Score:||1-4 (Borussia Dortmund)||0-4 (Bayern Munich)|
Biggest Storylines to Follow
Is Three Goals Completely Irreversible for Madrid?
Real Madrid were completely outplayed by Dortmund when they played last week, finishing on the wrong side of a 4-1 drubbing that all but ended their tournament hopes.
Or did it? I mean, this is one of the more potent attacking teams in world football, and as we've seen in the Champions League alone this year, Los Blancos are more than capable of posting up some big goal-scoring totals, regardless of the defense that they're up against.
If Madrid can score early here, this game is back on again.
The pressure will be on Dortmund to get their attack going and try and find some consistency in midfield again, but that's hard to do against a rampant Madrid side.
Should Los Blancos add a second before half-time, or even with half an hour to go, that leaves them just one goal away from winning this tie. Three goals is a long way to come back from, but if you break it down into game-thirds, it could all be down to the final 30 minutes for Madrid—who are definitely capable of throwing everything forward and finding a goal.
The key is Dortmund's attack. If the Germans score at the Bernabeu, then it's all over. Madrid would need to score five goals to win, and there's no way they can do that against Dortmund's defense, so they'll need to maintain some defensive solidity all whilst going gung-ho in attack.
Madrid certainly have the talent to do it, and as we saw with Bayern Munich and Arsenal, it's really not that easy to try and defend a lead in the Champions League.
Three goals is definitely not out of the equation for Madrid this week.
Will They be Without Cristiano Ronaldo?
Jose Mourinho loves to have the edge when it comes to the mind games. He was defeated in the tactical battle by Jurgen Klopp in the first leg (a game that he didn't rest Cristiano Ronaldo for on the weekend beforehand), and it's no surprise that the Special One is trying to gain some sort of an advantage in the second leg here by playing mind games regarding his star.
Ronaldo was not just rested from the weekend's Madrid derby against Atletico Madrid—he was ruled out with injury, per the club's assistant Aitor Karanka.
He has a muscle problem and he wasn't able to train today and he isn't in the squad for tomorrow. We hope to have him back for the return match against Dortmund...
Now anybody can see pretty much straight through Ronaldo being "injured" in the lead-up to a big game. But there's a slight inclination here that this is more than just a mind-game; could the superstar winger actually be having trouble with a thigh strain heading into Madrid's clash against Dortmund.
There's no doubt he's carry some sort of injury, for most players are by this time of the year. Short of being in a coma, however, Ronaldo will surely play in this one.
Just how effective he'll be against Dotmund's pressing defense, however, still remains to be seen.
Can Lionel Messi Find Space Against Bayern's Defense?
Lionel Messi is a superstar player, but against Bayern Munich's defense in the first leg, he was pretty much just another guy wanting to try and find the ball.
Messi was completely shut out of the game by Bayern's defensive structure and was forced to drop a long way down the pitch to try and build the attack. And even then, he wasn't able to get all that much going against the Bavarians, with Dante in particular doing a sterling job on the Argentinian star.
We saw a similar thing when Messi was shut out against AC Milan in the round of 16, but he then exploded at home in the return leg—netting two goals and playing key roles in the other two goals. Could we be in for a similar performance against Bayern here, or will it be more like the first leg again?
At home, you'd have to think that Messi will be better than in Germany.
He'll have more space and more time on the ball, and perhaps most importantly, his troublesome hamstring will have had another week to recover and repair.
His confidence will be back, and his general knack for being in the right place at the right time should help him stay in the goals here. It's hard to see La Blaugrana coming back from their huge loss in the opening leg, but it's pretty safe to say that Messi will have better success in Spain than in Germany.
Will Bayern Make a Statement at the Nou Camp?
Some will say that Barcelona's reign as world football's hegemony ended last week against Bayern Munich. Some will call it a changing of the guard, a shift in the power balance of world football. Others still will go as far to say that the Catalan club are in decline and not coming back up any time soon.
Whatever you think of all that, it's very safe to say that Bayern made a statement last week about just how good they are, and how good they'll be in the future.
And much like the quarterfinals, they could make another statement here.
See, Bayern could come to Camp Nou and defend. They're brilliant defensively and would be more than capable of holding Barcelona's attack out for 90 minutes.
After all, that's what they did in Germany.
But what the Bavarians could do—and what I think they will do—is come to Camp Nou like it was 0-0. They'll come to play and score goals. Sure, they'll want to keep a clean sheet and not suffer the most embarrassing two-leg defeat in history, but I think that Jupp Heynckes will have prepared his side to play their usual dominant selves right across the pitch, and not just in defense.
Bayern will want to attack, control the midfield, and score goals again.
Like they did in the quarterfinals against Juventus, I think they could come to their away game and make a big statement here about just how strong they are. I just can't see them playing defense for 90 minutes, which could make for a very fascinating fixture at the Nou Camp this week, particularly if the Germans get on a roll like they did at the Allianz Arena last time they met.
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