UEFA Champions League semifinals are set: El Real gets Juve; Pep returns to Barcelona

Sorry, Ryan. We’re getting two games, not one.

Our colleague Ryan Rosenblatt’s pleas, dreams, and intemperate fantasies of a Barcelona-Bayern Munich final were destroyed this morning, with UEFA drawing Barcelona and Bayern Munich together in the Champions League semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, Real Madrid will take on Juventus, keeping alive the possibility of our first ever Clasico final.

The semifinals will begin May 5 in Turin, Italy, with Barcelona-Bayern kicking off at the Nou Camp a day later. That playoff will pick up in Munich the following Tuesday, May 12, with the other finalist to be decided the following day in Madrid.

The big subplot resonating from today’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland, is the impending return of Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guaridola to Camp Nou. The Barcelona icon left Spain three years ago, eventually joining Bayern in the summer of 2013. Since, he’s won league and cup honors in Germany, but his reputation is still built on a historic run in Catalonia: three league titles, two Copa del Reys, two Champions League victories, two world titles, the fostering of Lionel Messi, and constructing what many see as the greatest club team to ever play soccer. All in four years.

Now in Germany, the matchup provides a chance for vindication, or indictment. Guardiola was brought in by Bayern’s management to bring the next installment of Barcelona’s style to the Allianz Arena. In that time, Barça style has evolved away from Guardiola’s, if only slightly. A loss to a Catalan side that Luis Enrique has guided in different direction may be seen as an indictment of Guardiola’s approach, while a victory over Spain’s leaders could serve as a validation of the principles Barça has offset since Guardiola’s departure.

For course, only so much truth that can be distilled from 180 or 210 minutes, but those conclusions may still be drawn. Just as Guardiola can show he has evolved beyond what he was, Barcelona can prove it has grown beyond its former coach.

The other semifinal features a rematch of the 1998 final, one Nando Vila alluded to yesterday. That game was decided in the 66th minute when Predrag Mijatović finished from close range to give Real Madrid a 1-0 win over Juventus at the Amsterdam Arena. The upset gave El Real first European championship in 32 years while denying the 1996 champions redemption for their loss in the previous year’s final. The games will be El Real and Juve’s 17th and 18th all-time meetings in UEFA competition.

Regardless of who emerges from the two playoffs, we’re guaranteed to have a new final. Despite the 21 titles and 37 finals appearances between the four clubs, we have never seen a final between Bayern and Juventus, Juventus and Barcelona, Bayern and El Real or, broadcasters’ wet dream, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Come June 6 in Berlin, we’re guaranteed something we’ve never seen before.

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