Who Will Advance to the Champions League Semi-Final?
The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League is coming down to the wire. We have already seen a number of massive upsets in Europe’s premier football competition. Most notably, title favourite’s Real Madrid who were ousted in the round of 16 at the hands of a young, up-and-coming Ajax side.
So, for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign, we will have a new Champions League winner this season. Real Madrid’s failure to advance deep into the competition just adds yet another disaster in a season full of disasters for Los Blancos. Madrid re-hired Zinedine Zidane earlier this week, which means the decorated Frenchman becomes the Spanish giants’ third manager of the season.
Betting on Champions League is different from betting on the Euros or the World Cup. In Champions League a team has to manage the fatigue and pressure of performing in various competitions simultaneously while competing with the elites of Europe.
All sorts of things change over the course of the long season. Some teams lose key players to injuries or suspension, while others will see their form fluctuate from month-to-month. So, the team that looks elite in November may not necessarily look quite as dominant in March.
In addition to Real Madrid, the likes of Paris St. Germain, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Roma are out. Manchester City, Manchester United, Juventus, Tottenham and Porto are among the clubs that have advanced to the quarter-final stage. Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Lyon are hopeful to join the group of those that have already moved on.
Which sides will advance to the semi-final of this season’s Champions League?
At times, Manchester City look like the best club on the planet. Things were looking dicey for Pep Guardiola’s side during the first leg of their round of 16 tie against Schalke. Despite the fact that Schalke are struggling mightily in the Bundesliga this term, the German side showed a shocking amount of resolve against the defending Premier League champions.
However, the English side wound up turning around a 2-1 deficit and escaped Germany with a 3-2 victory in that first leg despite going down a man in the second half. In the second leg at the Etihad, City put the pedal to the metal. Guardiola’s side routed Schalke by the score of 7-0 to secure their place in the quarter-final.
City are in a heated battle with Liverpool for supremacy in England, but the team’s primary goal should be European glory. City have won the Premier League 3 times within the last decade, but they have yet to enjoy much success on Europe’s biggest stage.
With Sergio Aguero in flying form in front of goal, City should have little issue putting the ball into the back of the net. Their chances of advancing beyond the quarter-final obviously depend on how difficult of a draw they get, but at this point it’s hard to suggest that City won’t be favored regardless of which team they wind up facing.
Manchester City look like a lock to advance to the semi-final this season.J
As was the case with Manchester City, Juventus faced a bit of adversity in the round of 16. Cristiano Ronaldo and the 7-time defending Serie A champions were held to a 2-0 defeat in Spain at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the first leg. Considering Diego Simeone’s stellar defensive track record during his time at Atletico, turning the tie around in the second leg was a tall order, even for a side as stacked with talent as Juve.
In the end, though, talent won out. Ronaldo picked up a hat trick in a vintage performance in front of the home crowd in the second leg, and the 3-0 result was enough to push Juve into the semi-final. The Italian giants are still seeking European glory for the first time since the mid-90s, and the signing of Ronaldo from Madrid during the summer was a move explicitly designed to get Juve over the hump.
Things haven’t been a total breeze for Ronaldo in Italy, but the fact that he is clearly still capable of great things at his age is a good sign for Juventus moving forward. They face little resistance in the league, so Juve should arguably be fresher for their future Champions League matches than teams with more heated league races like Manchester City or Liverpool.
Liverpool faced arguably the toughest challenge of any of those that wound up advancing to the last 8. Following a scoreless draw at Anfield in the first leg, Jurgen Klopp’s side had to travel to Munich during the week needing to get at least a draw (with at least 1 goal) against Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.
Bayern have a decorated history when it comes to Europe, especially in recent years. Liverpool won Champions League in 2005, but trophies have been elusive for this club for the better part of the last 30 years. The Reds did make a shocking run to last season’s Champions League Final, however, and their 3-1 triumph at the Allianz Arena to advance to the quarter-final this season is a signal that Liverpool are back to being a European power.
Led by the incredible attacking trio of Sadio Mane, who scored twice against Bayern, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool can be unstoppable going forward. They have also added a defensive backbone centering around Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker, which has been crucial in the team taking the next step. Liverpool have always been able to score goals, but the team boasting a stifling back line is certainly something new.
Liverpool will be chasing the Premier League title, but European glory is also high on Klopp’s list of priorities. He has come close in previous years, but this Liverpool side looks like the real deal. Regardless of who they draw in the quarter-final, I like the Reds to potentially close the deal in 2019.
Barcelona were held to a surprising scoreless draw in the first leg of their round of 16 clash with Lyon, but the earth got back onto its axis when the tie shifted to the Camp Nou for the rematch. Led by the indefatigable Lionel Messi, the Blaugrana trumped the Ligue 1 side by a score of 5-1 to advance to the round of 8.
Barcelona advanced to the quarter-final last year, where they were shockingly beaten by a Roma side few saw advancing as far as they did. However, now that their 2 primary Spanish rivals have been ousted, Barcelona should be looking at this as a wonderful opportunity to reclaim their spot at the top of European football.
Messi may not be at his peak anymore, but even this slightly diminished version of the Argentina international is still better than 99 percent of the players on the planet. When he’s pulling the strings, as he was in the demolition of Lyon, it’s a formidable side.
At this point, Barcelona, Juve, Liverpool and Manchester City look like the 4 best teams in Europe, if not the world. A lot can happen over the course of a 2-leg quarterfinal, but these would be the 4 teams I’d be betting heavily on to advance to the semi-finals of the 2019 UEFA Champions League