The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League semi-finals begin tonight, with FC Bayern München playing host to Real Madrid CF. As well as bringing you the latest as we build up to kick-off in Munich, UEFA.com's team of reporters will also have news from the press conferences ahead of Wednesday's match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona.
All times CET.
Tuesday 19.15, UEFA.com newsdesk
That is it as far as the blog is concerned for today. It will return tomorrow morning with reaction from tonight's game in Munich as well as all the build-up to Wednesday night's Stamford Bridge encounter. In the meantime, you can follow all the action in the UEFA.com MatchCentre.
Tuesday 18.30, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
Whatever the argument about Madrid's potential defensive weaknesses, José Mourinho's side have no such problems going forward. The team with most shots on goal of the four semi-finalists in this season's UEFA Champions League, Los Merengues equaled the club's highest ever goals total in a Liga campaign – 107 – with their 3-1 weekend win against Real Sporting de Gijón. Curiously, that is the same figure that, combined, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín have contributed in all competitions, making them the most prolific trident in Madrid's history.
Bayern can take some relief from the fact that only two of that trio are likely to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation tonight.
Tuesday 17.54, Andy James en route to Fußball Arena München
Just jumped on the U-Bahn northbound to Fröttmaning and already there are a fair few Bayern fans heading to the stadium early to soak up the atmosphere. One denim-clad supporter sat opposite is regaling his friends with tales of the last UEFA Champions League semi-final here two years ago against Olympique Lyonnais, which Bayern won 1-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate before going on to lose to FC Internazionale Milano in the Madrid final.
That night the home fans produced a marvellous choreography spanning the entire crowd and Sven, as the jolly fellow in front is apparently called, reckons the Bavarians will have something even better in store this evening. "The Bayern fans are going to do something special, I reckon," he says. "After all, this isn't Lyon... This is Real Madrid!"
Tuesday 17.42, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
The Spanish media continue to obsess about what they see as Bayern's defensive frailties but daily publication ABC offers a different insight, saying Madrid are themselves hardly rock solid at the back before going on to assess an area that could be key to the hosts' chances of success this evening.
"Where Madrid will have problems is at full back and it is in this zone going forward that the Bundesliga side can profit," the newspaper explains. "An out of form Álvaro Arbeloa has to deal with the menacing Franck Ribéry while on the other side, Fábio Coentrão must try to stop a potentially destructive Arjen Robben who will be keen for revenge against his old side."
Tuesday 17.30, Jamie Reid at Stamford Bridge
Have arrived at the Harris Suite, in the heart of the giant West Stand here at Stamford Bridge. Positioned directly behind the owner Roman Abramovich's executive box, the suite is comfortably the largest media room in the stadium – and ahead of the back-to-back press conferences, it will need to be. There are seats for 300 of the world's press, with the club's media officer warning journalists waiting outside it will likely be standing room only when the press conferences get underway.
Barcelona will be first up, followed shortly afterwards by Chelsea. In a break from their usual protocol, Chelsea trained at the stadium the night before their successful quarter-final second leg against SL Benfica – a tactic usually only adopted by the visitors to Stamford Bridge – and the home team will limber here again tonight. A superstitious move perhaps...
Tuesday 17.22, Wayne Harrison en route to Stamford Bridge
A cursory glance at the Barcelona website informs me that Cesc Fàbregas will accompany Josep Guardiola to the holders' press conference in just over an hour. The Spain midfielder will no doubt have a tale or two to tell about Chelsea after facing the Blues 16 times in league and cup during his eight years at Arsenal FC. What tone his recollections take is up for debate, however – after all, he was only on the winning side in three of those meetings, although he did score on his last appearance against the Stamford Bridge club, a 3-1 victory in December 2010.
Tuesday 17.10, UEFA.com London newsdesk
"We must remember what we are playing for," warned defender Sergio Ramos ahead of Real Madrid's semi-final first leg against what the Spanish international describes as a "world class" Bayern team.
With Madrid still in the running for two major trophies, the Spanish press have been focused on El Clásico - the derby between José Mourinho's Liga-leading side and title rivals Barcelona. Yet speaking in Monday's press conference in Munich, Ramos was quick to remind journalists of the importance of the last-four meeting with Bayern.
"We must remember what we are playing for tomorrow," said the 26-year-old. "We must not think about Barcelona or the Spanish title. We are playing in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern München. We are playing against a world-class team here."
Tuesday 16.45, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
The meaning of this historical tie between Bayern and Real Madrid is perfectly illustrated by following statistic: they are the two clubs who have played the most games in the UEFA Champions League and European Champions Clubs' Cup. Real Madrid have played all in all 345 games and won 201 of them (60 draws, 84 losses), Bayern 259 games (143 wins, 60 draws, 56 losses). What should make Bayern especially confident is that they have never lost a European home game against Real Madrid: the nine matches have brought eight wins and one draw.
Tuesday 16.16, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
Barcelona, in London since 21.00 last night, will get a feel of the Stamford Bridge pitch when they commence training later this evening. Prior to that we will hear the thoughts of Josep Guardiola and Cesc Fàbregas at the team's press conference.
The club's sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, meanwhile, has already been speaking ahead of tomorrow night's first leg against Chelsea, saying he expects "we will see football in its purest form" when the game commences. A part of the first Barça side to lift the European Cup at Wembley in 1992, 'Zubi' admitted he was looking forward to a special atmosphere when the teams line up against each other for the 11th time in UEFA competition. "Every time I played in English stadiums the crowds really got behind their teams, roaring out their support," he added.
Tuesday 15.55, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has spoken of his love for the big matches and his desire to beat reigning UEFA Champions League champions Barcelona when they visit Stamford Bridge tomorrow. "A lot of things have changed since we last played Barcelona but our desire to beat them is as strong as ever," Drogba is quoted as saying in the Sun newspaper.
"I signed for Chelsea to play in games like this," insists the Ivorian international. "These are the occasions that excite us all. We have many memories from our previous games against Barcelona — good ones as well as bad."
Drogba added: "This tie is 50-50 but we are ready for them. We expect to win something every year at Chelsea. That's why I'm here."
Tuesday 15.35, Andy James in Munich
Also featured in tz is an interview with Madrid's legendary former striker Hugo Sánchez, who was involved in some classic encounters against Bayern during the 1980s. "I loved playing against Bayern," said the Mexican, who netted over 200 goals for Los Merengues. "They were historic football matches. Intense, spectacular, heated – Bayern had a great side back then. We played them twice in the 80s. We won once and they won the other."
Asked how he felt tonight's tie compared with the ones involving [Lothar] Matthäus, Juanito, [Klaus] Augenthaler and Co., Sánchez said: "Of course it has the same relevance. History remains the same, it's only the names that change."
Tuesday 15.14, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
Real Madrid's players enjoyed some light stretching exercises in the tranquil woodland surroundings of their hotel a few hours ago. Among them was Xabi Alonso who is expected to man the defensive midfield alongside Sami Khedira. The Spanish international is, of course, a former UEFA Champions League winner with Liverpool FC and admitted earlier in the week that he would love nothing more than to appear in another final seven years after his success in Istanbul. "My hope and my dream is to get there again," he said. "Tonight our objective will be to win. We want to score away from home and try to take an advantage back to Madrid."
Tuesday 14.49, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
Jupp Heynckes will tonight be relying on vociferous fans to play their part in a predictably sold-out match at the Fußball Arena München; 66,000 people will pack the stadium in Frottmanning, just north of Munich. "This fact is of great importance; the atmosphere will be fantastic and can give us a boost in the decisive moments," said the Bayern coach. Striker Mario Gomez added: "The stadium will be on fire and the fans will spur us on."
Tuesday 14.32, UEFA.com London newsdesk
With memories of the 2009 semi-final defeat by Barcelona still vivid, Chelsea's Ashley Cole has warned his side "not to take your eye off the ball for a minute" on Wednesday. The England left-back believes Chelsea paid the price for dropping their guard, and that is not a mistake he intends to repeat tomorrow. "They've got a great manager who has been in this situation for years, and they've got so many world-class players that you can't take your eye off the ball for a minute. Any one of them could step up and do something magical, so we've got to be fully on our game."
Tuesday 14.14, Delfín Ramírez, Spanish newsdesk
National daily El País speaks about a "Trial in Munich", noting that Real Madrid have a big test ahead of them. "Only the old European Cup, now called the UEFA Champions League, can measure the true greatness of the strongest teams. No other competition is more intimidating."
It goes on to say that: "No team in football history has attached its name to a tournament like Madrid to the Champions League. It is appropriate, therefore, that the fates judge today in this familiar setting; in Munich, in front of the proud Bayern."
Tuesday 14.00, Andy James in Munich
It was fairly sunny in Munich when I popped out to get the papers this morning, but since then the weather has turned somewhat overcast and it's expected to be pretty chilly at the Fußball Arena München this evening.
The clouds have also been gathering for Bayern during the past couple of weeks. Defeat by Borussia Dortmund and a scoreless draw with 1. FSV Mainz 05 have left their title hopes in tatters, but captain Philipp Lahm has no doubts his colleagues will be revitalised for tonight's heavyweight semi-final.
"We've got over the title, that's another competition," the reliable full-back is quoted as saying in tz. "We players are all fired up for Real. I have no fear. We'll fight from the start and do everything we can to win and if not, we'll try and get a 0-0."
Tuesday 13.40, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Barcelona's Brazilian international right-back Daniel Alves has stoked the flames ahead of tomorrow's match against Chelsea by telling the Independent that the Blues used the wrong tactics in their 2009 semi-final encounter with the Spanish champions: "There is no doubt that was the hardest game we've played," said Alves. "But a team with a man advantage playing at home and winning should have attacked us more."
Tuesday 13.17, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
No fewer than five Bayern players are under extra pressure tonight as they must avoid a booking at any price, otherwise they will be suspended for the second leg. David Alaba, Jérôme Boateng, Luiz Gustavo, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller are all threatened by the yellow peril. On the other side, however, not one Real Madrid player has the shadow of suspension looming over them. That could provide an advantage to José Mourinho's charges.
Tuesday 13.00, Delfín Ramírez, Spanish newsdesk
Sports daily AS focuses its match preview for tonight on "an eternal battle in hell in Munich", highlighting the great history and atmosphere surrounding the match between Bayern and Real Madrid. "At first glance, fear will be the main ally of Bayern. Munich know our fear of the men dressed in red."
Tuesday 12.38, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
The Munich-based tz has an interview with Germany coach Joachim Löw, in which he declares that he will not miss the chance to watch this game live from the Fußball Arena München: "These are really big prestigious duels which will be talked about for a long time. That means pure suspense and pure football." When asked if Bayern have a chance against Real Madrid, he said: "Of course! In my eyes the result is absolutely open. In big games Bayern always step up. That is a very special quality, which has always characterised Bayern. They will not freeze in awe for sure. I belief that they can come through again this time."
Tuesday 12.15, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri has insisted that his old club will not fear reigning champions Barcelona in their semi-final clash. In an interview with BBC Sport, Ranieri gave Blues fans cause for optimism ahead of tomorrow's encounter at Stamford Bridge. "They will respect Barça but afraid? No. Why? It will be a close match," said the 60-year-old, who was dismissed as FC Internazionale Milano coach last month. "They have had some close matches before – Andrés Iniesta scored in the last minute last time – and maybe it will be different this time.
"It is not all about stopping Lionel Messi, because Barça are not only Messi. They have so many great players and it is important the Chelsea defence is solid under pressure. But Chelsea have some good players too. If they play at their maximum then anything is possible.
"How should they approach the game? Barça will keep the ball so Chelsea should try to attack quickly without worrying about possession, because they are not likely to get much."
Tuesday 12.00, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
German newspaper Bild speculates about the Bayern lineup for tonight: "[Bastian] Schweinsteiger in, [Thomas] Müller on the bench. Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo should provide balance in central midfield, [Toni] Kroos moves to the playmaker position, and therefore Müller has to sit on the bench."
Munich based Abendzeitung recalls Jupp Heynckes' time as Real Madrid coach: "Heynckes: Dismissed as champion. In 1998 Heynckes won the Champions League with Real, but eight days later he was dismissed. Now he feels that 'a very big match is waiting'. It would be a late satisfaction for him."
Tuesday 11.45, UEFA.com newsdesk
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