For the fourth season in a row, the vicious Madrid rivalry lights up the latter stages of the Champions League. Real Madrid have emerged victorious in all three previous match ups - including two of the last three finals - but every encounter has been a heated, gladiatorial affair. Atleti hearts were broken last season, when they fell to a penalty shootout defeat to Zinedine Zidane's side.However, Diego Simeone's side will visit the Bernabeau feeling confident, in a good run of domestic form,...
Much is made of the away goals rule in the tight contests of modern Champions League matches, but with Jan Oblak in goal, Atletico have the base for one of modern football's most solid defensive foundations.
Since their 2-1 victory over Rostov on November 1, Oblak and the rest of the Simeone's back line haven't conceded a single goal at home in the Champions League, and have kept clean sheets in 16 of their last 18 home fixtures. That's obscene.
Assuming Atleti are still in the tie when they host Los Merengues in the return fixture, Oblak's communication, and fondness for spectacular saves in big games could prove crucial if Simeone's side are to get the Real Madrid monkey off their collective backs.
It's often suggested that some players get better with age. Those players are not normally defenders. Juanfran is 32, and has been a mainstay at the Vicente Calderon since 2011, having started his career across the city for Real Madrid.
Still able to keep pace with many of La Liga's fastest players, the Spaniard has an innate ability to form a partnership with any player on Atleti's right flank, be it Yannick Carrasco, Saul Niguez, or Koke, as well as providing a legitimate attacking outlet in his own right, having glorious provided the assist for Carrasco's equaliser in 2016's final, with fantastic interplay, and a truly intelligent cross.
Juanfran hit the post in the subsequent penalty shoot out, but he remains an integral part of Simeone's team, for both his experience and his consistency.
The first of a centre back pairing that could be described as 'decent in the air', Diego Godin is the beating heart of Simeone's Atletico side. His partner in defence for Los Colchoneros has varied a lot this season, with injuries to Jose Giminez meaning that the likes of Stefan Savic and Lucas Hernandez have had to deputise at the back.
Such is Godin's quality that the depletion to Simeone's side hasn't felt as urgent as it really should have. Through his leadership and marshalling of not just the defence, the Uruguayan has elevated every player he has partnered, dragging them to his level, to maintain Los Colchoneros' reputation as one of the world's greatest defensive sides.
Los Blancos captain Sergio Ramos may not always convince, but there's no doubting that in this competition, he comes into his own.
With Pepe out for the season, and Raphael Varane a constant fitness concern, Ramos will most likely partner Nacho at centre back for Real, and his leadership and experience will be essential to nullify the threat carried by the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres, and Yannick Carrasco.
Many may prefer Marcelo in this battle of the Brazilians, but in terms importance to their respective teams, as well as the well-roundedness of their overall game, Filipe Luis has to take this position.
A fundamentally solid defender - one up on Marcelo already - Luis is used in a genuinely unique role for Simeone's side, using both his own, and his teammates' defensive solidity as a base to become something of a playmaker, from the left back position. Watching Atleti play, and using Luis in this way is fascinating, as so much of their attacking play flows through him, allowing the left sided midfielder (often Carrasco) to push further forward in attack.
Possibly not as consistently adventurous as Marcelo, Luis compensates for this through intelligence on the pitch. He's by no means a conservative full back, but at the same time, he never seems to be caught out when he marauds up the field.
Given the pseudo-Galatico nature of this current Madrid side, you may want to whisper this- Casemiro is Real's best player at the moment.
From Claude Makelele to Xabi Alonso, the robust, composed, holding midfielder has been perennially underrated in Los Blancos' successes. Casemiro has consistently proved his worth to Zidane, through his tenacity, along with the occasional spectacular goal.
Able to play right on the edge of ill-discipline (something his captain Sergio Ramos could learn a thing or two about), the Brazilian is the type of un-glamorous player that great sides often need, to let other players truly flourish.
Toni Kroos is the footballing equivalent of a metronome, albeit a metronome that can rake 50 yard passes and bang 30 yard screamers.
Living proof that pace isn't the be all and end all in the modern game, the likes of Gabi and Koke in Atleti's engine room will have to be at the peak of their powers, in order to keep the World Cup winner from unpicking this disciplined Atleti side.
Many people praise Sergio Ramos for his heading ability at crucial times, yet no one seems to consider the man who whips the ball in for Madrid's defensive stalwart, and given Los Blancos' recent penchant for set-piece goals, Kroos' delivery alone must be taken into account by Simeone and his coaching team.
In a Madrid side with such a single-minded, often ruthless attacking line, unselfish players are essential, so as keep the strikers supplied on a consistent basis. Alongside Kroos, Luka Modric is damn near flawless at this.
Outside of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and maybe Andres Iniesta, its very hard to think of a player that has been generally accepted as world class for as long as Luka Modric has, making up for his slight frame with masterful intelligence on the pitch, rarely squandering possession, with glorious technical ability when passing and shooting.
Offside or not, Cristiano Ronaldo is now the greatest scorer in European football history. His perfect hat trick against Bayern brought him to a century of goals in continental club competitions, and was reminiscent of his dominant display against Wolfsburg, in last season's quarter final turnaround.
Curiously, the goals against Bayern ended a lengthy European drought for the Portuguese legend, which stemmed back to the group stages of this year's competition, but like Sergio Ramos, as the stakes get higher, so do the quality of his performances. That celebration is still terrible though.
Since he surged in to meet Juanfran's cross in last year's Champions League final, Yannick Carrasco has moved from strength to strength, transitioning from an impact sub to a critical part of Diego Simeone's first team.
Many would argue that Gareth Bale is a better player at his best, but the Welshman has suffered an injury-ravaged season, to the point that he won't even be available for selection for the first leg of the semi-final.
This leaves the spot on the right flank open for the tricky winger, and Carrasco has even outscored Bale in all competitions this season, including a goal of genuine class in the group stages against Bayern, which secured a vital result for Los Colchoneros, eventually seeing them best the Germans, and top their group.
Everyone's favourite transfer rumour, Antoine Griezmann is poised to potentially lead Atletico to greatness. Despite the consistent links with other clubs, Griezmann remains focused on his football, and recently scored his 100th career goal, including a critical late equaliser in the Madrid derby, at the beginning of April.
2016 was a heart-breaking year for the Frenchman, who crashed a penalty off the bar in the Champions League final, and his French side fell to the greatness of Eder in the final of Euro 2016, despite Griezmann claiming the title of Player of the Tournament.
Still only 25, Griezmann is clearly destined to reach the top of the mountain, but he truly has the chance to ascend as quickly as this season, considering the European emphasis, and warrior-like mentality that Simeone has imbibed his players with in recent years.
After playing the bridesmaid to Cristiano Ronaldo's bride last year, narrative loving football fans everywhere would tear up at the idea of Griezmann being given away by Cholo Simeone, down the long aisle of the Milennium Stadium, and lifting the Champions League.