Insights

The Champions League and Europa League Preview: Semi-Finals

Europe’s number one club competition serves up two mouthwatering semi-finals with Real Madrid taking on Chelsea, and Manchester City playing Paris Saint Germain for an opportunity to take a step closer to the final in Istanbul.

Real Madrid vs Chelsea

The Spanish giants are trying to add another title to the 13 they already have. Playing in their 30th semi-final (includes the old European Cup), Real are the most coveted team in the competition. Real Madrid didn’t look very convincing in the group stages, however, they are yet to lose a match in the knockout phase. The return of Eden Hazard will be a welcome boost for Zinedine Zidane. It will also be Hazards first appearance against Chelsea since leaving the London club. 

Chelsea have yet to concede a goal in the knockout phase. Defensively they have been impenetrable which doesn’t bode well for Real Madrid. Since Thomas Tuchel took over, they have been very well organised – apart from against West Brom in the league. Going forward, Olivier Giroud could provide the goals. He has six in this year’s competition, which is two behind top scorer Erling Haaland. 

Verdict: Expect a tight game, with neither team wanting to give anything away defensively. A game that will suit Chelsea. 

PSG vs Man City

In the last round, Bayern Munich had 45 (not a typo) attempts compared to PSGs 16, yet the French side made it through on aggregate thanks to some clinical finishing.

In Neymar and Mbappe, PSG have two superstars who are instrumental to their success, providing 14 goals between them in the competition. Worryingly, the latter might be affected by an injury he picked up at the weekend.

However, the possible absence of Marquinhos may be the most cause for concern. Marquinhos has not played since picking up an injury against Bayern Munich. This season, he has been a rock in defence, while providing the odd goal, too. 

Pep Guardiola has a full squad to pick from, which allows for another game of ‘Pep roulette”. He is likely to pick what he deems to be his perfect team, so it’s anyone’s guess who starts.

Expect Man City to play without an out-and-out striker. Man City have scored 21 goals in this year’s competition, with 10 players getting on the score sheet. Ilkay Gündoğan is top with four goals. 

Verdict: This tie will be a battle of styles. Man City like to keep the ball, and PSG like to counter. Whoever wins this tie, is likely to make the final, and have a chance to become the next first time winner. Something that PSG are more likely to do, especially if Marquinhos is fit to play. 

The games will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, with the return fixtures on May 4th and 5th. 

The Europa League Preview

Manchester United vs Roma

Manchester United are the highest-ranked team left in the competition. They are also the only team in the semi-finals that started their European campaign in the Champions League.

Despite a slow start to the season, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s guidance, the Red Devils seem to have found their mojo. Bruno Fernandes has been the driving force of the side, and he will undoubtedly need to add to his 40 goals and assists if United are to reach the final.

Roma have been prolific in this year’s Europa League, scoring an average of 2.17 goals per game.

The trip to Manchester will be an exciting one for three of Roma’s players. Ex-Manchester United duo Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling will be trying to get one over their old team, while Edin Dzeko will be looking to add to his four goals in the competition. In fact, Dzeko has six goals against Manchester United (Wolfsburg: 1, Man City: 5). 

Verdict: Last season, Manchester United fell at the same stage to Europa League specialists Sevilla. They are unlikely to make the same mistake against Roma. However, a poor performance will be punished by the gladiators from Italy. 

Villarreal vs Arsenal

Villarreal seem to be returning to the good old days under ex-Arsenal manager, Unai Emery. Emery not only knows Arsenal well but is also one of the most decorated coaches in recent Europa League history – won three Europa League titles with Sevilla. They have been the standout team this year with 11 wins and draw from their 12 games. 

Arsenal have been the perfect example of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Their Premiership form is atrocious, yet they are the Europa League’s top scorer with 32 goals in the 12 games.

Alexandre Lacazette has been a standout performer, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not being the same player he was since signing a new contract.

This will be Arsenal’s third semi-final in four years, each time playing against Spanish opposition. They lost to Atletico Madrid in 2017/18 (2-1 on aggregate), and eliminated Valencia a year later (7-3 on aggregate). They lost 4-1 to Chelsea in the final.   

Verdict: This is the fifth time the two sides will play, with Villarreal yet to beat the Gunners (D:2 L:2). If that wasn’t enough, Villarreal have lost all four previous European semi-finals they have played. Can’t really see that changing against an Arsenal side that can turn it on any time, and kill the tie within minutes, especially if Aubameyang can actually turn up!

The games will take place Thursday, with the return fixtures on May 6th. 

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