There is almost monopoly power in two of the main soccer leagues in Europe while just two clubs dominate another. Juventus and Bayern Munich are just about untouchable in Italy and Germany respectively while in Spain Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate the league. These four superpowers are all in the semi-finals of the Champions League, the major domestic European competition.

The semi final draw has matched Bayern Munich with Barcelona and Juventus with Real Madrid. The ties are played on a home and away basis and the outcomes are determined by the aggregate number of goals scored over both matches. There is a quaint rule that any away goal counts double if scores are level after both matches. If goals and away goals are equal ties are decided by 30 minutes extra time and then penalties. The latest match and outright odds can be found at 888Sport.

The Holy Grail of European Football

Qualifying to play in this cup is the Holy Grail for clubs all around the continent due to the vast revenues from television money, gate receipts and merchandising. However, the structure of the Champions League is such that the rich get richer and the gap in financial clout between haves and have not’s is gets wider. It is almost impossible for clubs outside the stellar group to play in the competition from year to year. The consolation of playing in the Europa League brings vastly reduced revenues.

Clubs that qualify are assured of three home fixtures in the group stages and every match is televised live either by free to view broadcasters or subscription based satellite channels that specialise in sport. The various income streams mean the teams who play in the Champions League can afford to buy the best players and pay the highest wages and thus are more likely to qualify again in a cycle of financial strength. Despite the financial might of a few no side has won the Champions League in successive years.

The major clubs budget for playing in the Champions League and those out of the loop have tried in the past to buy their way into the exclusive club. In England Leeds United invested in top players to get into the competition on a regular basis. They reached the last four once but did not have the resources to be competitive over a sustained period of time. They took out large loans to support the project but could not fund them and financial restraints and relegation followed.

Van Gaal Turns Things Around

Manchester United did not qualify to play in this season’s Champions League and that ultimately cost David Moyes his job as team manager. Louis Van Gaal replaced him and was given the minimum objective of taking the club back into the Champions League. Despite United’s huge resources and fan base they could not write a second year without TV money from playing European football into their business plan and cash flow forecasts. Van Gaal has turned things around and United will be back next season which means they can attract the best players during the transfer window in the summer.

Real Madrid won the precursor to the Champions League called the European Cup for the first five years in which it was contested. They were champions of Europe for the ninth time in 2002 and from then on La Decima (the tenth) became an obsession. The feat was finally achieved last season when they beat Atletico Madrid after extra-time and penalties in the only final ever between two teams from the same city.

Real Madrid v Barcelona : El Clasico

The rivalry between the two Madrid teams is intense but nowhere near as passionate as the competition to be top dogs in Spain and Europe between Real and Barcelona. The game between the two sides is known as ‘El Clasico’ (The Classic). It brings together the most famous clubs from two rival regions in the country. The clash dates from the Spanish Civil War and reflects political and cultural tensions between the Catalans represented by Barcelona and the Castilians for whom Real are the main club.

Barcelona have won 76 meetings, Madrid 81 and there have been 39 draws. The Champions League draw has panned so that they could meet in a European final for the first time. The match would be more than an all-Spanish affair but a clash between Catalonia, a region that wants independence, and an area of the country that has the capital and seat of government within its boundaries. The situation is made worse by the fact that the English translation of Real is Royal which suggests the Spanish Royal Family backs the club.

Bayern Dominate in Germany

There is no such rivalry in Germany where Bayern Munich dominate and have the wealth to such an extent that they are know as FC Hollywood. Pep Guardiola is the Head Coach so deep down he might have mixed feelings about the Champions League semi-final tie with Barcelona. He played 263 times for Barcelona and managed the club in their most successful era between 2008 and 2012. Since moving to Munich his Bayern side have won 77% of all matches, 4% better than his success rate at Barcelona.

Bayern Munich have been champions of Germany 24 times, including four times in the last six years. They have also won the German Cup on 17 occasions and been champions of Europe five times, three times in successive years in the 1970s. Twelve members of the squad are German and eligible to play for the national team. The bond and understanding between these players helped Germany win the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The England national team fail at the highest level partly because only about one third of Premier league players are English and one club rarely has more than 3 representatives in the national team at any one time.

Juventus Champions of Italy Again

Juventus are enjoying a period of domination in Italy similar to Bayern Munich’s control of domestic soccer in Germany. Juve have won the Italian league for the last three years, 30 times in total and will add to that tally this season as they are 15 points clear with only 7 matches to play. They have won the European Cup or Champions League twice, though in 1985 they beat Liverpool 1-0 with a disputed penalty in a final remembered for the death of 39 of their fans in a stadium disaster.

The final of this season’s Champions League in Berlin will match two European super powers and could see Bayern Munich playing in their own country. However, the contest that all of Spain and most of the rest of Europe would like to see is El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona which would be the biggest fixture in the long history of both clubs.

Odds to Win the Champions League

Barcelona 13/8 +162.50
Bayern Munich 2/1 +200
Real Madrid 2/1 +200
Juventus 8/1 +800

All UK odds taken from British bookmakers William Hill

For a full range of European soccer odds please visit 888Sport