The Champions League is down to the semifinals — and clubs from Europe’s four biggest soccer nations still have a shot at the title. For the first time since 1981, teams from Spain (Real Madrid), England (Liverpool), Italy (Roma) and Germany (Bayern Munich) make up the last four of Europe’s elite club competition.
Three of them are aristocrats of the continent, with Madrid, Bayern and Liverpool having won the competition 22 times between them. Roma has never been European champion but cannot be discounted after its historic comeback against Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich
Spanish representation in the semifinals has been cut to one team for the first time since 2010. The fact that team is Real Madrid isn’t a surprise.
Seeking a record-extending 13th European title, Madrid is in the semifinals for the eighth straight year and is meeting Bayern at this stage for the seventh time in the competition’s history. The most recent was 2014, when Madrid won home and away against a team coached by Pep Guardiola.
Now the German team is coached by Jupp Heynckes, who led Bayern to the title in 2013 before his first retirement. Heynckes came back in October to rescue Bayern after its faltering start to the season led to Carlo Ancelotti’s departure and has already said he will not be staying on beyond this season.
Heynckes led Bayern to a Champions League-Bundesliga-German Cup treble in 2013 and is attempting to do so again, having already won the league and reached the final of the cup.
Bayern has been eliminated by Spanish opposition every year since Heynckes first retired, and Madrid is the favorite heading into the two legs.
The defending champions travel to Germany after a full week of rest and preparation since their last match, a 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao. They received the extra days off because their Spanish league match against Sevilla, originally scheduled for this weekend, was moved to next month after Sevilla reached the Copa del Rey final played on Saturday.
Zinedine Zidane should be able to count on all his first-choice players and must decide whether to start playmaker Francisco “Isco” Alarcon or winger Gareth Bale up front with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema on Wednesday.
Ronaldo will be seeking to continue his incredible scoring run after having scored in all 10 matches in the competition this campaign for a total of 15 goals. Bayern will be without combative midfielder Arturo Vidal because of a knee injury.
Liverpool vs Roma
Much of the talk ahead of Tuesday’s match between the two surprising teams in this season’s competition has centered on Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s prolific forward who joined from Roma in June in a 42 million euro (then $47 million) transfer.
Salah has scored 41 goals in all competitions — eight of which have come in the Champions League — and on Sunday was voted English soccer’s player of the season.
“We’ve warned him not to do anything special or he’ll be for it!” said Roma right back Bruno Peres. “Before the match, we’re not thinking about friendship, after it, yes.
“We know what he’s capable of and we know he’s in brilliant form.”
Roma holds a special place in the hearts of those associated with Liverpool. The English club won the first of its five European titles in Rome in 1977, and got its fourth seven years later by beating Roma in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.
That was the only other season in which the Italian club advanced as far as the semifinals. Liverpool last got this far in 2008.
Liverpool came through the playoff round in August and is the only unbeaten team in the Champions League. It is also the competition’s top-scoring team with 33 goals, five coming against Manchester City in the quarterfinals.
Anfield can be an intimidating fortress for Liverpool in Europe, starting with the pre-match “welcome” of the visiting team bus through the narrow streets outside the stadium. Liverpool can destroy opponents in quick bursts chiefly via its attacking trio of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Yet Roma is full of confidence after a stunning 3-0 victory over Barcelona that saw the team reach the semifinals on away goals.
Both clubs are American-owned: Liverpool is linked to the owners of the Boston Red Sox, while Roma president James Pallotta has a stake in the Boston Celtics.