The low-down on the final four

There was a stark contrast in the Champions League quarter-final ties with the likes of Barcelona cruising through, while Real Madrid left it late to book last four progression.But with four teams left challenging for Europea��s top club prize, it looks tighter than ever to predict an overall winner with traditional European heavyweights filling the semi-final spaces.

Here Sportsmaila��s looks at the final four left in the hat ahead of the semi-final draw on Friday.
BARCELONA

The run to the semi-finals

Just when it looked like Barcelona were becoming a fading force among the elite, they bite back and look almost better than ever. Barca have played 10 games in the Champions League this year a�� winning nine of them.

That one defeat was against Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage and they soon sent the French champions packing in the quarter-finals with ease, along with Premier League champions Manchester City in the previous round. The lesson here is write them off at your peril.

Manager a�� Luis Enrique

After a rather sticky start to life in the Barcelona hot seat, Enrique has grown into the role. Only as recent as January there were reports of a fall-out between the ex-Barca star and Lionel Messi.

But since then he looks to have solved the puzzle in how to get the best of the Argentine, Neymar and Luis Suarez in a devastating front three. On course to win the treble in his first season at the club.

Key player a�� Lionel Messi

Make no mistake, Messi is still the general but he has just as deadly deputies in Neymar and Suarez.

Stop one of the trio and the other two will run riot. Ita��s a front three that is giving every opposition manager nightmares and is helping spark a resurgence in Messi as he returns to top form.

Ten-year record in the Champions League:

2013-14: Quarter-finals vs Atletico Madrid; 2012-13: Semi-finals vs Bayern Munich; 2011-12: Semi-finals vs Chelsea; 2010-11: Winners; 2009-10: Semi-finals vs Inter Milan; 2008-09: Winners; 2007-08: Semi-finals vs Manchester United; 2006-07: Last 16 vs Liverpool; 2005-06: Winners; 2004-05: Last 16 vs Chelsea; Top scorer: Lionel Messi (8)

REAL MADRID

The run to the semi-finals

After breezing through the group stages without so much as a test from any of their opponents on the way to a 100 per cent record a�� Real Madrid have been given a wake-up call in the knock-out stages.

The Champions League holders were left hanging on to a one-goal home defeat at the hands of Schalke before progressing on aggregate, before they left it until two minutes from time in the second leg to see off city rivals Atletico in the quarter-finals.

Ita��s not always been pretty, but Carlo Ancelottia��s team are proving as entertaining as ever.

Manager a�� Carlo Ancelotti

Ancelotti has won the Champions League three times as a manager, including last season when he guided Madrid to a�?La Decima.a�?

Considering the former Chelsea managera��s record in the competition, it would perhaps be fitting if he could become the first manager in the Champions League era to defend the trophy.

Key player a�� Cristiano Ronaldo

Real may have a front three in Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to rival Barcelona, but there is no mistake that the Portugal forward is pulling the strings at the Bernabeu.

However, he has not been at his finest in Europe this term, with Atletico Madrid effective in stifling the forward service for much of their quarter-final. Against more attack minded teams, he is more likely to show his best in a counter attacking system.

Ten year record in the Champions League:

2013-14: Winners; 2012-13: Semi-finals vs Borussia Dortmund; 2011-12: Semi-finals vs Bayern Munich; 2010-11: Semi-finals vs Barcelona; 2009-10: Last 16 vs Lyon; 2008-09: Last 16 vs Liverpool; 2007-08: Last 16 vs Roma; 2006-07: Last 16 vs Bayern; Munich; 2005-06: Last 16 vs Arsenal; 2004-05: Last 16 vs Juventus; Top scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (8)

 

BAYERN MUNICH

The run to the semi-finals

Looking at Bayern Municha��s Champions League record this season makes worrying reading for any defence heading into the semi-finals a�� they just cannot stop scoring.

They have already netted 14 times in the knock-out phase of the competition – and thata��s without including the seven they stuck past Roma in the group stages. Goal scoring isna��t a problem for Pep Guardiolaa��s side.

But defending is, or more specifically defending on the road. Manchester City and Porto have punished the German champions this term and as devastating as they are at the Allianz Arena, rivals will have a chance to punish a Bayern team on their travels.

Manager a�� Pep Guardiola

Highly rated as one of the worlda��s best managers after guiding Barcelona to success domestically and globally having played swashbuckling football in the process.

Now at Bayern, Guardiola is already ruling Germany with an iron fist, but his ultimate aim is to secure a sixth Champions League title for the club, which will only keep Europea��s elite courting his services. Manchester City are already sold on his managerial ability.

Key player a�� Manuel Neuer

The brilliance of Bayern is that should one component of their attack falter, the chances are another segment of it will effortlessly pick up the pieces.

Thata��s not really the case in defence which is why Manuel Neuera��s form is crucial in the latter stages of the competition. Whether it be playing as a sweeper keeper to bail out his back four or having to show off his supreme shot stopping ability, his role will be crucial to Bayern.

Ten-year record in the Champions League:

2013-14: Semi-finals vs Real Madrid; 2012-13: Winners; 2011-12: Final vs Chelsea; 2010-11: Last 16 vs Inter Milan; 2009-10: Final vs Inter Milan; 2008-09: Quarter-finals vs Barcelona; 2007-08: Failed to qualify; 2006-07: Quarter-finals vs AC Milan; 2005-06: Last 16 vs AC Milan; 2004-05: Quarter-finals vs Chelsea; Top scorer: Thomas Muller (6)

JUVENTUS

The run to the semi-finals

Unlike the other teams in the last four, Juventus had to scrape through the group stages having had Olympiacos breathing down their necks for the runners-up spot behind Atletico.

Performances have improved since though for the Italian champions, having impressively dumped out Borussia Dortmund with ease while stubbornly seeing off Monaco. Juve have conceded just one goal in their last six European games, next up though is one of the big guns . . .

Manager a�� Massimiliano Allegri

Allegri took the Juventus job off the back of a rollercoaster spell at AC Milan that saw him leave the Italian giants when they were well off the pace in Serie A a�� casting doubts over his managerial abilities.

Given that the Rossoneri are still struggling in mid-table, and Allegri is now in a Champions League semi-final, the 47-year-old has gained a feather in his cap with the old lady in the last four for the first time since 2003.

Key player a�� Carlos Tevez

Juventusa��s top scorer in Europe this season, Tevez is going to be needed now more than ever with the Italian side not expected to see much of the ball whoever they draw in the semi-finals.

The Bianconeri may be restricted to very few chances so they will be looking to the former Manchester United and City striker to convert the ones they could have on the field for the rest of the competition.

Ten year record in the Champions League:

2013-14: Group Stage; 2012-13: Quarter-finals vs Bayern Munich; 2011-12: Failed to qualify; 2010-11: Failed to qualify; 2009-10: Group stage;
2008-09: Last 16 vs Chelsea; 2007-08: Failed to qualify; 2006-07: Failed to qualify; 2005-06: Quarter-finals vs Arsenal; 2004-05: Quarter-finals vs Liverpool; Top scorer: Carlos Tevez (6)