THIS past week the Champions League has given us late drama, upsets, and the decimation of a Catalan empire no less and now that the dust has settled we’re left with semi-finals that have a lot to live up to. Thankfully, both genuinely fascinate.
At face value there are clear favourites in each and the prospect of a Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint-Germain showpiece event at the Estadio da Luz next Sunday appears likely. In fact, we could go one step further and suggest this is Bayern’s tournament for the taking if they continue their imperious form. That though would be overlooking the single leg format that unseated Manchester City and took Atalanta to within a whisker of reaching the last four. It’s forgetting too that this is 2020, a year that makes things up as it goes along.
With so much unpredictability swirling all around us, all we can really do is assess the strengths and weaknesses of the remaining contenders and from there listen to our gut. It’s an instinct that tells us the surprises aren’t quite done with just yet.
When highlighting the Bavarian’s plus-points it is difficult to know where to start and what to omit. Their thrashing of Barcelona made it abundantly clear how formidable this side can be when in the groove and they’ve been in the groove a lot since Hans-Dieter Flick took over the reins last November. Flick, according to Jerome Boateng has “brought back the joy for us as a team to play football, to have fun”. That is a scary proposition for everyone.
All told Bayern have scored a record-breaking 39 goals so far and are unbeaten in their last 19 games across all competitions. In Robert Lewandowski they have a goal-machine who has scored every 50 minutes during this Champions League campaign and it’s worth noting too that no other player has made more assists. In short, they are well on course to lift their sixth European crown.
Weaknesses are few and far between but even the Death Star had a susceptible exhaust vent. Over-confidence leading to complacency might be an issue while for all of their in-game flexibility Bayern can sometimes be outnumbered in midfield. This latter point will be of particular interest to Wednesday’s opponents.
Champions League odds: 11/20
Paris Saint-German can pulverise the best and the rest when Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are on song but this season it’s their impenetrable defence that truly stands out. With five clean sheets in the competition Keylor Navas is set to win the Golden Gloves award while across the board the Ligue 1 winners have been nigh-on impossible to breach with just 30 concessions from their 46 competitive fixtures n 2019/20.
Weaknesses for Les Parisiens have been well documented and while a reliance on individuality will always make them mortal it’s their Champions League ‘curse’ that matters most this week. It’s been said that by overcoming Atalanta in such late fashion that mental block has finally been lifted.
In truth it is far too early to make that call.
Champions League odds: 5/2
Paris Saint-Germain’s propensity to cave when destiny is on their doorstep places a great deal of emphasis on Leipzig to not allow the occasion to get the better of them. Buoyed immeasurably by defeating Atletico Madrid this is unlikely to be a factor and especially with the enfant terrible of management Julian Nagelsmann preparing his team for every eventuality.
With a reputation that is soaring Nagelsmann is undoubtedly Leipzig’s biggest asset and this is particularly true of this tie due to his in-depth knowledge of Thomas Tuchel’s methods from learning under the former Dortmund coach early in his career. We have already witnessed in the FA Cup semi between Arsenal and Manchester City how a pupil can usurp a former mentor by using insider know-how. Will the same apply here?
One notable failing for the Germans meanwhile is their habit of capitulating late in games. Eleven of their 37 goals conceded in the Bundesliga this season came after 80 minutes; a statistical anomaly.
Champions League odds: 9/1
Lyon’s defence is relatively sound and well-organised while at the other end Moussa Dembele has fired home 47 goals in his last two seasons. Really though all that is good about the French side stems from their brilliant midfield.
Ahead of a holder in a three-man set-up Houssem Aouar and Maxence Caqueret rarely fail to sparkle and surely each are destined for big-money moves in the near future. Caqueret incidentally is one of the most deceptive players in world football because his passing and vision mark him down as a baller yet he runs and runs for the cause.
In their highly impressive defeat of Manchester City, Les Gones had just 28% of the possession and they will be content again to let their superior foe enjoy the baulk of the ball. Their threat lies on the counter with ideally Auoar given a precious second or two to orchestrate it.
Lyon’s Achilles heel is their inconsistency and this is best epitomized in their defensive totem Marcello. If he’s on it his team tends to be too. If the 33-year-old is off the pace a cricket score is not inconceivable.
Champions League odds: 17/1