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Defensive Chelsea frustrate Atletico Real’s Ronaldo on course to face Bayern

MADRID, April 22, (Agencies): Atletico Madrid and Chelsea were locked at 0-0 after their Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday after the Spanish side failed to break down their ultra-cautious visitors at the Calderon. Atletico, through to the last four of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in 40 years, dominated the defence-minded 2012 winners but were unable to carve out an advantage ahead of next week’s return leg at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho, returning to the Spanish capital after three years at Atletico’s city rivals Real, had clearly set out to frustrate the home team and the result means his side will be slight favourites to advance to next month’s final in Lisbon. The Londoners lost goalkeeper Petr Cech when he fell heavily and hurt his right elbow in the 15th minute but neither his replacement Mark Schwarzer nor Atletico keeper Thibaut Courtois were genuinely tested in a drab affair.

There was another cracking atmosphere before kickoff at the 55,000-capacity stadium next to the Manzanares river where the fans have been flocking to enjoy what is easily the Madrid club’s best season in almost 20 years. Atletico coach Diego Simeone deployed an attacking formation with Diego Costa leading the line supported by attacking midfielder Raul Garcia and Diego and Koke providing the creative impetus just behind. Mourinho, by contrast, had containment in mind, with former Atletico captain Fernando Torres alone up front and defender David Luiz in a holding role in a five-man midfield. The Portuguese coach had obviously instructed his players to sit back and try to catch Atletico on the break and they were happy to let the home side have the ball in a first half short on entertainment.

Chelsea were forced to make an early change when Cech was knocked to the ground by a tumbling Raul Garcia at a corner and he was helped off clutching his right arm. Australian Schwarzer, 41, making only his second Champions League appearance, became the oldest player to feature in the knockout phase. With almost the entire Chelsea team behind the ball, the hosts managed only one shot on target before the break, a weak Diego effort, and the visitors none. Midfielder Mario Suarez flashed a long-range drive narrowly wide in the 34th minute and Diego Costa had a volley well blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta but otherwise there was little goalmouth action. The second half was a similarly cagey affair and there was more bad news for Chelsea in the 73rd minute when captain John Terry limped off after turning his ankle at a corner.

Captain Gabi forced a decent save from Schwarzer in the 76th minute as Atletico pressed for a goal but Chelsea held out reasonably comfortably. Cristiano Ronaldo should be fit to face Bayern Munich on Wednesday, according to Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, but a final decision on whether he will play in the Champions League semi-final first leg will be made on the day of the game. The FIFA World Player of the Year has not played since the beginning of this month due to knee and hamstring strains but is back in training and will now undergo a more vigorous session on Wednesday morning including sprints which will determine whether he does start.

“He has been fine in training and we will have another test but it is obvious he will play if everyone is sure that he doesn’t have any problems. “We are confident that he will start but a decision will be made tomorrow,” Ancelotti told a news conference. “If there is a risk for him then he won’t play. This is a tie and so nothing will be decided here but hopefully we will take an advantage into the return leg.” Except for a defeat in the second leg of their quarter-final tie with Borussia Dortmund, which did not prevent them from progressing, Real have been in good form in Ronaldo’s absence with two wins in La Liga and victory last week in the King’s Cup final against bitter rivals Barcelona. Gareth Bale came to the fore in the cup with a fine winning goal and he is also fit to play having overcome a heavy cold.

“He is in good spirits. He had a small problem yesterday but now he is looking forward to playing. With the game he had against Barca it is logical that it will have given him more confidence,” said Ancelotti. “At the start of the season he was not ready but gradually he has found his form through training. He has been playing well and scoring goals and I think that he will continue to progress next season. “It will also be beneficial for him that he doesn’t have to play in the World Cup.” Real are now aiming for their first Champions League final since they won the competition 12 years ago against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow and the pressure has been growing on the team to win their tenth crown. Los Blancos will need Ronaldo and Bale firing on all cylinders if they are to overcome their historic hoodoo against Bayern in the last four of Europe’s premier club competition.

In five previous semi-finals, the Germans have come out on top four times, with a 3-2 aggregate victory in 2000 on their way to winning the competition for an eighth time Real’s only success. However, Madrid’s previously awful record against German opposition has been salvaged this season as they saw off Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund on their way into the last four. And Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes an away goal is the key to his side reaching the final for a third consecutive season. “We need to score at least one goal. That’s what we learned from Dortmund’s meetings with Real Madrid,” he said. “We’re known as the ‘la bestia negra’ (bete noire) down there. We need to show them la bestia negra is back.”

By their own lofty standards, Bayern have struggled to maintain their focus after sealing the Bundesliga title in record time a month ago. Saturday’s 2-0 win over bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig was their first in four league games, a run which included two consecutive defeats after a 53-match unbeaten streak. Bayern boss Pep Guardiola enjoyed an impeccable record of five wins and a draw in six visits to the Santiago Bernabeu in four years in charge of Barcelona. However, the Spaniard has accepted responsibility for his side slacking off in recent weeks and will be hoping meeting the nine-time European champions brings out the best in them, having previously described playing in Europe as “like a good meal in a nice restaurant” compared to the “everyday pizza or hamburgers” of the Bundesliga.

And captain Philipp Lahm admitted the European champions need to be at the very top of their game when they visit the Spanish capital, where they triumphed on penalties in the semi-finals two years ago. “On Wednesday we’ll show we’re always up for it in the important games, but it’s still 50-50,” he said. “I am sure that everyone will put in a top performance on Wednesday because if they don’t we have no chance.” Other than the absence of former Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara, Bayern should also be at full strength with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and David Alaba returning to the side after missing Saturday’s win at Braunschweig due to injury and illness respectively.

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