Looking out of the window, you could pin us for going crazy and thinking it’s Christmas time. This year’s Champions League play-offs is like a gift that keeps on giving – goals galore and surprises across the board. With yet another step closer to the Final, it’s time to go over the Semi-Final match-ups.
Real Madrid vs Manchester City
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. The Semis already kick off on April 26th when Real once again travel to England for their 1st leg match in the play-offs. Having successfully shocked Chelsea (1-3) on home soil, Ancelotti’s men have their work cut out for them as City is determined to finally go all the way and clinch their first ever CL title.
Real’s play-off form has been a rollercoaster. Out of the 390 total minutes they played against PSG and Chelsea, you could say they were the better team maybe only 70-80 minutes of it. And during that period, one star shined brighter than all others. Karim Benzema has scored 12 goals in 9 matches in the 2021/22 Champions League season, with 2 (!) hat-tricks in the play-off stage. Add 25 La Liga goals to the tally and it’s hard to see him not winning the best striker (or player) of the season award.
However, Wednesday’s clash against Osasuna saw Benzema miss 2 penalties, so there might be a chink in the Frenchman’s armor after all. Luckily, Real has tons of quality throughout the team with the likes of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Rodrygo displaying exceptional performances to turn the Quarter-Final tide around against Chelsea. Concerns have been raised over Casemiro’s and David Alaba’s injuries but Ancelottis is confident the two will be match fit by upcoming Tuesday.
As for City, they’re as injury free as a top flight team can get. There are some question-marks over Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Kyle Walker but expect them also to take to the pitch on Etihad. Pep Guardiola’s team is still leading the Premier League with a narrow 1 point lead ahead of Liverpool and only 6 matches left to play. Still, their recent form has been a bit questionable, as they struggled against Atletico Madrid in the Quarter-Finals and suffered a 2-3 defeat against Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Finals.
Sportsbooks are still favoring Manchester City for the 1st leg, with odds of them winning at 1.54. Real is seen as the clear underdog, with odds of them winning at 6.00, but rest assured – everything is possible.
Liverpool vs Villarreal
A fairy-tale in the making? Most likely, yes. And no, we’re not talking about Liverpool, who is going for the 2021/22 treble by aiming to win the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup all in one season.
We’re talking about Unai Emery, who is the magical fairy and the tale that he is telling with Villarreal, having beaten Juventus 4-1 on aggregate in the Round of 16 and following it up with an even more shocking 2-1 win over Bayern Munich. Note that Villarreal wouldn’t even be in this year’s Champions League, unless they won the Europa League final last year against Manchester United.
Emery has an impressive record in European fixtures as he has reached the Europa League finals 5 times in the last 8 years and came away with the trophy on 4 occasions! So far, the Spanish manager has had less luck in the Champions League play-offs as he was stopped in Round of 16 twice in a row with PSG. Domestically, Villarreal is sitting securely in 7th place, with little chances of moving much up or down in the table.
Most notably, Villarreal’s injury list is topped by the striker Gerard Moreno, who has scored 9 La Liga goals and 2 Champions League goals for the Yellow Submarine this season. The Spaniard recently suffered a hamstring strain, which could end up being a huge blow for the team.
Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp have been on a tear recently. Tuesday saw them crushing Manchester United 4-0 and past Saturday winning 3-2 against Manchester City in the FA Cup Semi-Finals. Whilst they’re sitting 1 point back from City in the Premier League, odds of them winning are actually higher than their rivals – all due to tremendous form. Liverpool managed to ease past Benfica in the Quarter-Finals quite comfortably, winning 6-4 on aggregate.
The Red Devils are fit ahead of Wednesday’s clash and aim to reach their third Champions League final in recent five years. Odds are clearly in Liverpool’s favor, with their wins marked at 1.28 and a loss at 11.00.