Impact’s Tom Kfoury previews the Champions League semifinals.
Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
Leg 1: April 25 @ 2:45 p.m. (all times Eastern)
Leg 2: May 1 @ 2:45 p.m.
Standing in the way of Real Madrid’s quest for a third straight Champions League title is Bayern Munich. This semifinal will garner more attention than the other, and rightly so. Madrid and Bayern have the bigger stars and more recent history. Madrid knocked out Bayern in the quarterfinals in last year’s Champions League in controversial fashion.
Real Madrid have retained the team that has won the last two Champions Leagues. This, along with having soccer god Cristiano Ronaldo, is the reason why Madrid have been so successful in Europe. Aside from Ronaldo, the most impressive part of Madrid is their midfield. Casemiro is the best defensive midfielder in Europe right now and allows the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco to join the attack. Having the midfield flood into Madrid’s attack is very important because striker Karim Benzema has only scored two goals in the Champions League this year.
Bayern probably have the most balanced team of the remaining four in the Champions League. From top to bottom it is hard to find a weakness. Robert Lewandowski leads the attack for Bayern. There are plenty of players to supply Lewandowski too. Thomas Müller has 13 assists in all competitions. Along with Müller, Bayern have a diverse and powerful midfield. Arturo Vidal sits in front of the defense and breaks up opposition attacks while James Rodriguez and Thiago Alcantara push forward and join the attack much like Modric and Isco do for Madrid.
If there is one area that Bayern will try to exploit, it is Madrid’s defense. Aside from Sergio Ramos, Madrid do not have great defenders. Madrid fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Carvajal are better attackers and often leave space in behind that can be taken advantage of. Look for Bayern wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben to take advantage of this vacated space.
The other matchup to watch would be Ronaldo against Bayern’s two center-backs, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. Hummels and Boateng are at the heart of a Bayern defense that has only conceded 22 goals in the Bundesliga. However, they will be facing their toughest test. Ronaldo has scored 15 goals in the Champions League alone, and is the competition’s all time leading goalscorer.
This semifinal is difficult to predict. Both teams match up well against each other. It might come down to whichever team can nick an all-important away goal.
Liverpool vs. Roma
Leg 1: April 24 @ 2:45 p.m.
Leg 2: May 2 @ 2:45 p.m.
The two teams that pulled off major upsets in the quarterfinals are matched up against each other in the semifinals. Liverpool dominated Manchester City across two legs, while Roma came back from a three-goal first leg deficit to beat Barcelona. Although this semifinal might not have the stars of the other, it should still be interesting due to each team’s different style of play.
Liverpool’s front three of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have combined to score over 80 goals across all competitions. They constantly press opposing defenders and force them to make mistakes. There is also constant movement among Liverpool’s attack. Salah, Firmino and Mané also constantly interchange along the front line, making it difficult for defenders to focus on one attacker.
Salah, who has 40 goals across all competitions has been Liverpool’s main man this season, and will be playing against his former club. If Roma do somehow slow down Salah, then Mané and Firmino are just as likely to score. Liverpool’s attack might get most of the attention, but ever since signing center-back Virgil Van Dijk in January, Liverpool’s defense has quietly gone about their business. Van Dijk adds leadership and physicality to the defense that Liverpool lacked prior to his arrival.
Roma pride themselves on having a strong defense that shuts down the opposition’s best players. Center-backs Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus, along with goalkeeper Alisson Becker make up the back line that shut down Lionel Messi and Barcelona last round. In 10 Champions League matches this year, Roma have conceded 10 goals. They have also yet to concede at home in the knockout stages this year.
From this strong defense, Roma build forward to their attack which is often overlooked. Edin Dzeko leads the line for Roma. He is a physical presence that can win the ball in the air and also hold up play for the rest of Roma’s attack to join in. Also be on the lookout for 20-year-old winger Cengiz Ünder who has blossomed during the knockout stages.
From a neutral perspective, Liverpool might be the favorite to advance, but do not write off Roma. This semifinal will be won by the team that controls the midfield. Liverpool’s midfield three relentlessly presses their opponent. Jordan Henderson and James Milner are the definition of industrious. Meanwhile, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pushes forward with direct runs and links the midfield with the attack.
Roma’s midfield is built on grit and defense. Captain Daniele De Rossi is a no-nonsense, tough tackler who sits in front of the defence and breaks up opposition’s attacks, while Radja Nainggolan, who is just as tenacious, adds a little more attacking flair to Roma’s midfield.