Now that talk of the European Super League is out of the way, can we at least get back to talking about Europe’s premier club competition?
The UEFA Champions League has gotten to the semifinals, with only four of the 32 teams with began the journey last October left in the competition. Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid all have a chance of winning the trophy this year and each team will understand that they’re only a few good performances away from lifting the trophy.
The absence of last year’s defending champions, Bayern Munich is probably the biggest surprise of the semis, but losing to PSG is nothing to be ashamed of. Enough said, let’s take a look at some of the biggest talking points from the quarterfinals.
Chelsea is boring but effective
Since Chelsea got rid of Frank Lampard in January, it’s safe to say they look like a different team under the new boss, Thomas Tuchel. The former Paris Saint-Germain manager can count the number of losses he has suffered as the Blues boss on one hand and looks set to win at least a trophy as manager of the club following their victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup.
Chelsea got past giant-killing, FC Porto in the quarterfinals, despite losing the second leg tie at home 1-0. The Blues’ defensive masterclass in the first leg ensured a 2-0 victory away from home as they secured their first UEFA Champions League semifinal appearance since 2014.
Tuchel’s Chelsea is a stark contrast to that of Lampard. They score very few goals but also concede fewer, and that might be enough to help the London club secure their second ever UCL trophy and their first since 2012.
Lucky Real Madrid, wasteful Liverpool
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists his team’s fate was sealed after the 3-1 away loss to Real Madrid in the first leg of their quarter-final clash. However, some pundits would disagree as the Reds wasted chance after chance in the second leg tie at Anfield.
The Reds had 15 shots on the night compared to Real Madrid’s 6 but failed to convert any of them. I for one, predicted —after the draws for the quarterfinals were made— that Real Madrid had no chance over two legs considering the absence of players like Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, as well as the unconvincing win over Atalanta in the second round. The game brought back memories of Real Madrid’s three consecutive Champions League success —where they won some unexpected game despite being outplayed— leaving many to believe Zinedine Zidane is one of the luckiest managers ever.
Should Real Madrid get over the hump this year? Will it be attributed to luck or the tactical brilliance of Zidane?
City & Pep get over the hump
When Manchester City replaced Manuel Pellegrini a man who had just led them to the semis of the Champions League— with Pep Guardiola in the summer of 2016, we expected them to be perennial contenders in the Champions League. But they’ve failed to get past the quarterfinals in the last four years; thanks to Pep overthinking the tactics, or the opposition simply being better than them.
Pep also famously admitted his Champions League success at Barcelona and lack thereof at other clubs is down to Lionel Messi. The former Bayern Munich manager will be looking to break the jinx and lead City to the finals, but getting past Paris Saint-Germain is a completely different task compared to winning a game against a very young Borussia Dortmund team. City’s 4-2 aggregate win over the German side doesn’t tell the full story of the entire tie, who knows maybe if Dortmund had Sancho fit and available, we might be questioning why City & Pep have bottled another quarterfinal appearance.
Lewy is the icing on the cake
Bayern Munich and Hansi Flick must be cursing their luck after talisman and best player, Robert Lewandowski picked up an injury while on international duty with Poland, a week before the quarterfinals of the Champions League. The German champions still made a contest of their match against Paris Saint-Germain but missed the cutting edge Lewandowski offered upfront, as the 3-3 aggregate draw saw them eliminated on away
The first leg 3-2 loss at the Allianz Arena would have been particularly disappointing for the Bavarians, as they recorded 31 shots in total (12 on target), scoring only two goals. While PSG scored three goals from just six total shots (five on target). Lewandowski is expected to return to the squad this weekend, but one can only wonder what could have been if the Polish star was available for the quarterfinals.
The lack of Italian teams
The Italian teams might need to concentrate on how to improve their performances in Europe rather than creating a breakaway super league tournament. The Serie A had no representative in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, with the likes of Germany, Spain, England, Portugal, and France boasting of at least one representative.
The last time a team from Italy won the UCL was in 2010 (Inter Milan), and other than the two final appearances made by Juventus in 2015 and 2017, it’s safe to say the Italian teams have been hugely disappointing in the Champions League.
Written By: David Todva – Sports journalist and a retired football player originally from Russia now living in the US. Follow him on https://medium.com/@toduadavid1