The semi final draw threw up the dream final a round early. Real Madrid, aiming to win three consecutive UCL crowns, will have to go through the might of German champions, Bayern Munich, who are on a renaissance and also looking to win a second treble under veteran coach Jupp Heynckes.
Similarly, Liverpool face an AS Roma side they defeated to win the 1984 European Cup a round early, and the tie will reunite English PFA player of the season, Mohamed Salah, with his former employers. After the drama served in the quarter finals, it is safe to hope for more in this penultimate round dominated by three teams with the highest number of chances created in this season’s competition.
Liverpool vs Roma
Five-time winners Liverpool are attempting to reach a Champions League final for the first time since 2007.
The Merseyside club are riding on a high end of the season European wave just like they did in 2007, attempting to reach a UCL final with the top top teams in the EPL watching from home. The 2005 UCL winners will rely- as usual- on their high tempo gung-ho approach but whether it can help them past an uncanny, unfazed and steely Roma side who dumped out Barcelona will be exciting to watch.
Roma coach, Eusebio Di Francesco, is a pragmatic coach who favours a tight unit to star player target, evidenced by his groupie stifling of Lionel Messi et al. Therefore, special attention for Mo’ Salah, who netted 34 times in 83 games for Roma and has blossomed to score 41 goals in 46 games since he left the Giallorossi for Liverpool at the start of the season, should not be expected even though the players know their former team mate’s style of play.
This is more so because despite the obvious threat of Salah, Saido Mane and the unpredictable Roberto Firmino, nullifying the twin threat of Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and James Milner (Milner tops the UCL assists chart this season with eight assists) should be considered more important. Both tireless Englishmen are having a barnstorming end to the season and they do much of winning back possession to starting the fast-paced counters. It remains to be seen how ageless veteran, Daniele De Rossi and tireless midfielder, Nainggolan would shore up the middle of the pitch to prevent any damage from the duo.
The Italian capital club have qualified for this stage just twice in their history: their first European semi-final for 27 years, and much of the credit must go to the perfect utilization of Edin Dzeko. The 32-year old striker helps to disrupt the harmony of the opponent’s defence. His excellent hold-up play and ice-cold battles with opposition defenders helps his team mates to do more damage, while also scoring six UCL goals in the process. Dzeko terrorized English club, Chelsea in the group stage and the former Manchester City player understands EPL teams’ style of play. He would be expected to do same against an unstable Liverpool defence, and the Bosnian’s battle with the Kop’s defensive glue, Virgil van Dijk could decide the tie.
Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid
When, in the group stage, Carlo Ancelotti went on the last of his many experiments which led to a thumping 3-0 loss to PSG that got him sacked, little did the Germans envisage that they’d be two steps away from the UCL crown come end of the season. Credit has to go to 72 years old Heynckes who has played to the strength of his squad and with less technical maneuvering. Bayern Munich parade one of the oldest squads in Europe with players above 30 years and more approaching it, meaning experience is not their problem. Sevilla played so well against the Bavarians but apart from their wayward finishing, Bayern’s experience was the key to them advancing into the semi finals. The major problem has to do with the fact that many players have dropped a gear in form in comparison to last season.
Prime example is Robert Lewandowski, the Polish striker had scored eight goals last season compared to five goals this season at the same stage. Furthermore, wing wizards Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery look a shadow of their best, while Thomas Muller had to endure a lengthy goal drought before being somewhat revitalized under Heynckes. Coupled with absence of Neuer in goal and Kingsley Coman on the wing, plus the fresh blow of a lengthy layoff for Arturo Vidal, the German champions will need all of their European experience against the defending Champions and the Spaniards’ porous defence should be a further confidence boost. They also took the Champions to extra time last season where the had to succumb to some dubious refereeing to crash out at the quarter finals.
Real Madrid are having a rag tag season in domestically, but have made Europe their new home as they seek for an unprecedented third UCL crown on the bounce. However, they almost bunged it against Juventus after a marvelous first leg but were saved by that man, Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-gasp penalty at the Bernabeu. Experience also flows through Zinedine Zidane’s team, and they have had the better of Bayern in recent seasons, but a leaky defence and an error-prone goalkeeper could be their undoing.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the tournament’s all time highest goalscorer and current season’s top scorer with 15 goals- seven with his first touch and with at least one goal per match- would be relied upon to deliver the goods for Los Merengues but the much maligned defence has shipped twelve goals already this season, conceding thrice on two occasions. History shows that Bayern have crashed out of the UCL to Spanish oppositions- Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, in each of the past four seasons, therefore Heynckes’ team would need all of their experience against the perennial champions and hope it is enough to stop the the Real bandwagon.