Champions League Semi-finals Review

Champions League: Semi-finals Review

The Champions League 2019/20 is drawing to a close, this is the first time since 2005/06 season a UCL semi-final game did not involve Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, says something about the kind of impact these two have had in the last two decades! This was also the first time since 1990/91 to have no representation from England, Italy or Spain in an UCL semi-final, it was France v Germany in both the games. RB Leipzig, Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and Bayern Munich made up the semi-final quartet.

So how did the single tie semi-finals fare this year?

SF1: RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain – Credibility wars!

RB Leipzig overcame last year’s runners-up Tottenham in the R16 and Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals to set up their semi-final tie with PSG. With a reputation as the most hated club in Germany, seen widely as a mere marketing experiment and not as a traditional club, Leipzig take on much bad rep in the German media. But the club have lot of admirers in the European scene, known for their ambitions and attacking style of play with an impetus on youth development, the club has taken a serious step in establishing themselves as a credible unit. Managed by Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest manager in UCL history, Leipzig took on a PSG side who themselves are desperate to earn their own reputation in the game and not be seen as a state funded cash machine!

Interestingly, Nagelsmann’s first-ever coaching assignment was entrusted upon him by Thomas Tuchel, now PSG manager, when the Bavarian coached Augsburg II and Nagelsmann was just finding his feet at management after a disappointing career in football thwarted by injuries. Tuchel’s humble post match interview after his side pulled off a close victory against Atalanta in the quarterfinals was honest and revealing. He admitted that the victory probably saved his job and argued that people don’t appreciate how demanding his job is! He will be the last man to require remainders of how valuable an opportunity this was to his side.

Mbappe and Di Maria returned to the starting line-up alongside Neymar while Leipzig made one change with Nordi Mukiele coming back at right back. Leipzig started the game cautiously and was soon given a warning when Neymar broke loose and hit the post inside the opening six minutes. It looked like the Brazilian superstar will have another frustrating game in front of the goal after his wasteful game in the quarterfinals. Soon, Leipzig settled on an aggressive, combative approach in the midfield and looked very comfortable against the attacking riches of PSG. They made a total of 23 fouls breaking up PSG play compared to 13 fouls by PSG.

However, Marquinhos broke the deadlock in the 13th minute when he headed in a deft freekick from Di Maria from the left side. The Brazilian defender playing in the midfield proved his goal scoring touch after scoring in consecutive games for the Parisian side. Neymar was the best player for PSG and could have easily scored a hattrick in the first half. He hit the post again when he conjured a freekick from 35 yards out to catch out the goalkeeper in the near end, an attempt that fooled everyone in the pitch, synonymous of Joe Bryan’s goal for Fulham. PSG’s goalkeeper Sergio Rico was a spectator for much of the first half when Leipzig showed very little attacking intent. They could have gone to the break with just one goal deficit but for a dubious distribution error by their goalkeeper Gulácsi in the 42nd minute. Paredes made a sharp interception and crossed the ball inside the 18-yard box which was deftly diverted into Di Maria’s path by Neymar and the Argentinian coolly slotted behind to give PSG a two goal lead. Leipzig would have felt hard done by the way they conceded the goals, they came out swinging in the second half. Nagelsmann made a couple of switches bringing in Emil Forsberg and Patrick Schick and Leipzig went all in with their approach and threatened to half the deficit with their usual intensive display. PSG were half expected to choke because of their history at this level (7 consecutive exits in knockout rounds), but their superstars put in a workhorse like show during the crucial stage of the game just when Leipzig where starting to bite back. But any hopes of a comeback for Leipzig were killed when Mukiele’s bizarre decision to go down when he seemed to be in control of a situation near the box he was supposed to be defending, it’s unclear if he slipped or was hoping the referee would give a foul. A simple Di Maria cross and header by Juan Bernat put PSG 3-0 ahead and the Ligue 1 giants went on to comfortably manage the game from then on!

Leipzig would have loved to bring on Werner in this tie, but the gulf between the teams in terms of quality really stood out. Upamecano stood out for the German side, he was comfortable with the ball, strong in the tackle, assertive and drove the game forward every chance he got. Leipzig mainly lost out on crucial decisions and a lack of a genuine goal scorer. It was a fairly comfortable game for PSG who qualify for their first ever UCL finals in their 50-year history. Di Maria was the man of the match with a goal and 2 assists as PSG levelled Real Madrid’s record of scoring in 34 straight UCL games.

There’s a potential danger for PSG of Neymar getting suspended for the finals after the Brazilian superstar breached the current protocol against shirt swaps amidst the new Covid-19 regulations. It’d be a shame!

SF2: Lyon v Bayern Munich – David & Goliath

Lyon and Bayern both named an unchanged XI after their quarter-final exertions. Lyon were on a giant killing spree having eliminated Juventus and Manchester City in the previous rounds while Bayern came to the fore as the strong favourites to win the title after the 8-2 demolition of Barcelona. The last time these two teams met in the UCL was in a similar setting back in 2010, Bayern edged out the semi-final tie 4-2 then only to finish the tournament as runners-up against Inter Milan.

Bayern came into the tie with the longest unbeaten run across Europe’s top 5 leagues in 28 matches in all competitions, winning 27 of those and scoring 94 goals in the process. Bayern also came into the semi-final tie with a perfect record of 9 wins in this year’s UCL campaign with 39 goals scored at a rate of 4.3 goals per game! Lyon had a simple plan to stop the German side, a defensive 5-3-2 formation and an intent to hit on the counter with Depay and Toko Ekambi upfront, and it almost worked. Lyon started comfortably and had two golden chances for their front two within the opening 17 minutes of the game!

Depay was put through in the 4th minute by youngster Caqueret with a superb through ball, only for the Dutch striker to round-off Neuer and hit it outside. In the 17th minute his strike partner, Ekambi worked tremendously to hit the post only for the subsequent counter move to be finished off in the other end by Bayern’s Serge Gnabry, a brilliant left footed solo effort. This goal completely sapped the confidence of the French side and Bayern took control of the tie and started bossing the game.

In the 33rd minute, Gnabry made another similar run to work the ball from right to left side of the pitch onto Perišić and finished off the move he started with a cool tap-in after a rare fluff by Lewandowski in front of the goal. The second goal simply made the mountain too steep for Lyon to climb and the game settled in a nice way for the German side. Credit to the French side for the way they stayed in the game, but the side was too timid, looked tired and rarely committed men forward even while chasing the game. The inception of Dembélé and Jeff Reine-Adelaide added some spark to their attack in the second half, but Bayern mostly managed the game in a comfortable manner.

Lyon brought in 17-year-old Rayan Cherki in the 73rd minute, Bayern responded by bringing in £140 million man Coutinho, and world cup winners Tolisso and Benjamin Parvard. This was the kind of task Lyon were up against, the team had some impressive moments against the favorites but it was a reality check. The team have some exciting youth talent to look ahead!

Lewandowski had to wait till the 88th minute to get his quota filled with a superb header from a Kimmich freekick. This was the 55th goal of the season for Polish striker. With that, Lewandowski and Gnabry have a combined 24 UCL goals this season while the entire PSG have a total of 25 goals. It will be an exciting final on Saturday!

Bayern, as witnessed against Barça and Lyon, start the game slowly and can be hurt by counter attack against their high-line approach. Against players like Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria, PSG would do well to stay wary of this obvious threat. The finals will be a clash of the giants, with Bayern hoping to secure their second treble while PSG, the nouveau riche, will hope to get their hands on their maiden European title.

The shortened, single tie version of the games this season was exciting, but hard-core fans will look forward to have the traditional home & away affairs for the knockout rounds with filled stadiums in the coming season. Cheers!


About the Writer:

The writer is Venkateshwaran R, an MBA student from IIT Kharagpur. He is extremely passionate about football and loves the Premier League.

Connect with him on his LinkedIn handle here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/venkateshwaran5twenty/

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