Champions League Semi-Final Preview

Champions League Semi-Final Preview

For all the prevailing narrative of Bundesliga and Ligue 1 being “farmers’ leagues”, it is clubs from these two leagues who make up the semi-final line-up of the UEFA Champions league.

How’s that for a riposte?

There are no clubs from either the Premier League or the La Liga, and for the first time in many years, neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will be playing in the semi-finals. It’s like a foreshadow of a time when both these footballers would be retired, leaving us shorn of the magic and the rivalry that captivated fans across the world.

But let’s not draw our focus away from the men of the hour. After the adrenaline rush of the quarter-final stages, there might be a suggestion that this is a format better suited to the competition than its traditional, season-long, two-legged knockout ties version. Why not stage it like this every year, at the end of the season.

The decisions, sadly, don’t rest on us fans. All we can do is get ready for some mouth-watering clashes!

Gritty Leipzig’s biggest test

RB Leipzig have made it into the semifinals, despite their lack of top-level European pedigree, and despite the loss of Timo Werner. They found a way past Atletico, and looked quite alright doing it. Youssouf Poulsen is an effective frontman, while Dani Olmo, Marcel Sabitzer and Christopher Nkunku are effective from midfield. Emil Forsberg started on the bench against Atletico, but is a great option to call from the bench. Dayot Upamecano was fantastic in the quarters, marshalling the defence effectively. They will be the key players if Leipzig are to get through to the final. Their fast-paced football creates problems for opposition defences, and they are quite brilliant in counter-attacking. The pace of Timo Werner on the counter is a bit of a loss, but Julian Nagelsmann adapted the tactics to cover for that against Atletico, and it’s unlikely that will hamper them against PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain, of course, are a different beast. Unlike Atletico, PSG are quite sharp in attack. Neymar and Mbappe, along with Mauro Icardi, are a truly world-class trio, and if Plan A doesn’t work, the likes of Julian Draxler, Pablo Sarabia and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are quite capable of stepping up to the plate. For years, PSG have been labelled ‘bottlers’ for their inability to assert their quality at the biggest stages. In the last decade, Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona have knocked them out at various stages of the Champions league. The most glaring loss was when they let a 4-0 first leg advantage against Barcelona slip, losing 6-1 in the second leg. Their resilient come-from-behind display against Atalanta will please Thomas Tuchel, and he’ll hope his side can channel that against Leipzig.

The game will probably be won in midfield. PSG’s midfield of Marquinhos, Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera is solid defensively, and offers decent threat as well. Leipzig’s counterparts Sabitzer, Nkunku, Laimer and Kampl will have to break through that line to create scoring chances. Poulsen’s aerial prowess will be crucial, while PSG will be hoping Neymar can add some end-product to his dazzling dribbles.

Prediction: Narrow Leipzig win

In-Form Bayern face Lyon

Bayern Munich have been in red-hot form this season. They have scored goal after after goal, with hardly much thought of who their opponent is. They have been in particularly imperious form since the lockdown, and it reached sort of a zenith with the scarcely believable 8-2 win over Barcelona. They’re the favourites for the title right now, and there’s no debate over that. Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller are in great form, with Ivan Perisic joining in the fun against a hapless Barcelona side. Even bench options such as Phillipe Coutinho and Kingsley Coman have been scoring for fun. Leon Goretzka and wantaway star Thiago are solid in midfield, while Bayern’s high-line defence is more than capable of holding its own. Alphonso Davies has blistering pace, and he has both the footwork to hoodwink opposing defenders, and the pace to recover and track down opposing wingers. Kimmich, Boateng and Alaba are all solid, experienced options, while Neuer remains the reliable pair of hands. On paper at least, this side looks an unstoppable force of nature, and only a miracle might stop them.

All that makes the task even more daunting for Lyon. They made it out against Manchester City, but this game is a whole different ball-game. Lyon’s game-plan has basically been hitting teams on the counter. In a way, however, they also depend on moments of individual quality. Maxwell Cornet’s fine finish and Houssem Aouar’s vision for the pass to Ekambi were the turning points against Manchester City. Rudi Garcia will be hoping his side can cope with their 3-5-2 formation. They will once again rely on the ingenuity of Cornet, Aouar, Caqueret, and will be hoping Memphis Depay and Toko Ekambi can get in behind Bayern’s high defensive line quickly enough before Neuer strides out to sweep up. They will have their work cut out defensively, with Gnabry’s pace and Perisic’s footwork, while both Lewandowski and Muller are very intelligent in taking up correct positions in the box. Lyon will have to work overtime to stop this attack, and defensive midfielder Bruno Guimaraes will probably spend a lot of his time on the pitch trying to do just that, as much as he can.

Lyon’s chances of winning depend on how well they can foil Bayern in attack. As we have seen, they are effective on the counter, and although Bayern haven’t displayed much weakness at the back, Lyon might be able to carve out a chance or two. Moussa Dembele is an intelligent striker, and don’t be surprised if he starts the semi-final.

Prediction: Comfortable Bayern win

About the Writer:

Anubhav is an engineering student from Kolkata who is extremely passionate about football and loves watching the beautiful game.

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