So much for tactical and conservative first leg encounters!
The first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals blew that prediction out of the water as teams went for the jugular. Barcelona, Liverpool and Real Madrid landed telling blows in the first round to leave their opponents teetering on the brink of elimination. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich secured a valuable win away from home to place themselves in a favorable position to progress.
The second leg games get underway today. Here’s an overview of this week’s semifinal matchups:
Roma vs Barcelona
Despite being somewhat below their best in the first leg, Barcelona were still able to emerge victorious with a resounding 4-1 victory at the Camp Nou. It means that the Romans have a Herculean task facing them when they host the visitors, but they do have that precious away goal to give their fans a glimmer of hope.
For Barcelona, there has been pre-match talk of rotation — especially with reference to Messi’s recent injury issues. However, it is unlikely that Valverde will take this game for granted -- That away goal needs to be answered. I expect Barcelona to take this game in a more difficult encounter to progress fairly easily to the next round.
Manchester City vs Liverpool
Liverpool did the unthinkable in the first leg with a resounding 3-0 beating of Manchester City in front of the Klop. Despite being pre-match favorites, City showed once again that they are susceptible to the pace of Liverpool’s front line. A wounded Manchester City now need something of a miracle to turn the tie around.
In the lead up to this game, Pep Guardiola has talked about Manchester City needing to have the perfect game to even stand a chance of progressing. City needs goals, but they must also find a way to contain the ‘Pool attack. With Salah looking set to win his fitness race, this may be a stretch.
Expect City to attack from the opening whistle, including Aguero likely to return from injury. Liverpool meanwhile will counter at pace, with Salah, Mane and Firmino all hunting the away goal that will kill off the tie. This game should be a cracker.
Real Madrid vs Juventus
This was expected to be the closest matchup of the round, but Cristiano Ronaldo had other ideas. A virtuoso performance (topped by that memorable bicycle kick goal) sparked Real Madrid to a 3-0 away win at Juventus that places the tie is firmly in their grasp. The Old Lady have only a minimal chance of reversing this result.
Juventus will have to play aggressively from the start, trying to get Dybala and Higuain involved. But this will suit Real Madrid’s counterattacking style. Having earned the record of scoring in ten consecutive Champions League games, Ronaldo will be looking to add to his tally. And with this tournament being Real’s only real chance of silverware this season, there is little chance of complacency. I’m expecting Real Madrid to take care of business with little fanfare.
Bayern Munich vs Sevilla
Despite their underdog tag, Sevilla started well in the first leg, grabbing the lead against the Germans. But Bayern were able to recover, finishing with a 2-1 win. The away goals mean that Sevilla have a mountain to climb to turn this one around.
Bayern will take their usual direct attacking approach to the Spaniards, aiming to close out the tie at home. They are boosted by the strong recent form of veterans Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who will provide ammunition for Robert Lewandowski up front.
Sevilla will rely on their European tournament experience and unique technical abilities to try to get on top early. If they do, then they could very well make the tie interesting. While this match favors Bayern, it may not be as straightforward as it looks.
Here’s my UCL Fantasy team lineup for this round:
- GK: Navas
- DEF: Alexander-Arnold, Sule, Carvajal
- MID: Under, Iniesta, Sterling, Ribery
- FWD: Salah, Ronaldo (c), Messi
- BENCH: Fabri, Thiago, Rui, Jorge
Just the one change as I moved out David Silva to bring in Thiago Alcantara for more Bayern Munich coverage. I’ll bring him in off the bench with my manager substitution tomorrow. The change means that once the favorites progress, I should have flexibility with transfers for the semifinal phase.
Do you think there will be drama in the second leg games? What are your predictions and how are your fantasy teams shaping up? Let us know in the comments!