The Champions League semi-finals are set to face Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City against Paris Saint-Germain. After the defeat of Real against Liverpool, Chelsea against FC Porto, Man City against Borussia Dortmund and PSG against Bayern Munich, there is a lot to do. ESPN’s Rob Dawson, Sid Lowe and Derek Rae look back at the action and preview the next leg.
Who will win everything: Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid or Chelsea?
Dawson: It’s hard to look past Manchester City. They have won 28 of their last 30 games in all competitions, and one of those losses was to Leeds United when Pep Guardiola turned that squad strong. Defensively, they look far more solid than in previous seasons and have continued to score goals even without the use of a recognized striker. It was crucial that they didn’t panic against Borussia Dortmund. There were times during the Champions League knockouts at AS Monaco, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Lyon that they seemed to panic, but on Wednesday night there seemed to be more serenity at Signal Iduna Stadium, even after a goal was scored was. It’s a good sign ahead of the semi-finals with PSG. The city has every reason to believe that it can go ahead and win.
Lion: Real Madrid. Of the four teams in the semi-finals, most would agree that they are the favorites (and they will be glad they didn’t have to hit PSG, Bayern or City on the track, all of which could be better than them). And in a European Cup final: Well, it’s Real Madrid and a European Cup final. For much of this season Madrid haven’t been very good but there is still a midfield trio like no other (Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro) as well as Fede Valverde and a goalkeeper and striker of the highest level in Thibaut Courtois and Karim Benzema. Madrid are serious and bring the defensive solidity they lacked at the start of the season. (Here’s a question: better to defend without Sergio Ramos?) And most importantly, there is only
Rae: I see this as Manchester City’s Champions League that I have to lose now. They are the most complete team in the competition and there is a great determination to atone for the glitches of the final knockout stages. Their quality really showed when it came to Dortmund and the whole story was brought to a close with Phil Foden’s moment of brilliance to seal it. But after saying everything that they really have to deserve it against PSG. In the first leg against Bayern we saw how much individual quality there is in their ranks, and I can’t imagine the PSG City semi-final being an outlier in either direction. Kylian Mbappe & Co.’s PSG deadly counterattacks will be a real test for Ruben Dias and John Stones. Perhaps surprising to some, I make Chelsea favorites against Real Madrid. I don’t read about their defeat in the second leg to Porto as the goal of the exercise was to move forward after a competent performance in the first leg and Thomas Tuchel’s men still did it relatively easily. I think they’re better equipped to stifle a classic midfield and attack in a way that Liverpool couldn’t in the quarter-finals first leg. Also, Chelsea could have the best and deepest bank of any remaining teams.
Julien Laurens believes Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea need something special to beat Real Madrid.
Biggest “shock” in the quarterfinals?
Rae: That Dortmund coach Edin Terzic took the brave step of naming Ansgar Knauff in the starting line-up both times against City. That sounds strange given the 19-year-old winger’s contribution against VfB Stuttgart, but if we wanted to go back to the time of the beginning of last week it was an eyebrow decision. Allowing Knauff to make his first start at Etihad in the heat of the Champions League quarter-finals was brave. Knauff had a rough opening and looked a bit out of place, but eventually found his game feet. As Terzic said the other day, the youngster is no longer an occasional visitor to the Dortmund squad. We’ll see a lot more of this quick, talented player and the experience will have served him well. It’s just a shame for Dortmund that qualifying for the Champions League next year is too big a task given the seven-point gap between them and fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt.
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Dawson: The Champions League quarter-finals are the time for managers to choose their strongest teams and it was telling that Raheem Sterling played just two minutes after Manchester City drew against Dortmund. Sterling has been an important part of the City team that has dominated English football since Pep Guardiola’s arrival in 2016. At the end of the season, however, the English winger was on the sidelines. Guardiola have stated that Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden are in better shape and Sterling may struggle to regain his spot ahead of the semi-finals with PSG in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Dortmund.
Lion: There were no shocks, not really. Not even the surprises are big surprises: Bavaria is going out; Liverpool lack the subtlety to get past a deep defense and Mohamed Salah doesn’t take the chance when it comes to him. Madrid defends deeply and starts at break; Porto gives Chelsea problems, a lot of them, but ultimately it comes up short. Even Vinicius Jr., who scored two goals in the first leg, isn’t that big of a shock – how much it was treated as a major revelation in Spain and how much its finishing was an object of fun. He’s different, a player who shakes up games, makes things happen, and inspires (and is angry at the same time). That means he could be the “surprise” of the group. Or is the biggest surprise that Dortmund striker Erling Haaland doesn’t score a goal?
Jürgen Klinsmann deals with the possible consequences of the elimination of the Champions League against PSG at Bayern Munich.
Who was unlucky in the quarter-finals: Liverpool, Dortmund or Bayern?
Lion: Bavaria were. At one level, this is a simple conclusion: they were the only team to score away goals. But there’s more: just count the shots against PSG. Check out the chances they missed in the first leg, how they actually played – better than anyone else in the quarter-finals. Even in the second leg, when PSG were probably the better team taking the chances, they were close to the passage. And then look at Robert Lewandowski’s absence and ask yourself: will that happen if he doesn’t injure himself when he plays for Poland against Andorra?
Dawson: Borussia Dortmund can consider themselves very unfortunate not to be in the last four. Despite the Bundesliga fight, they played most of the 180 minutes against City, and if Jude Bellingham’s perfectly legitimate goal in the first leg hadn’t been inexplicably ruled out, the result might have been different. Emre Can’s penalty in the second leg wasn’t that controversial but there was still much debate over whether it should have been imposed. In the end, City were almost the better team and deserved to come through, but the margins were very good and unfortunately they were on the wrong side for Dortmund. They also missed one of their best players, Jadon Sancho, due to an injury. Dortmund had no luck at all.
Rae: I’m half tempted to say Dortmund because Bellingham scored a wrongly rejected goal in Manchester and they were awarded a penalty that was by no means clear on their return. But I have to say that Bayern were the most unlucky of all teams in the quarter-finals. First, they lost Lewandowski at the worst time in the run-up to the first PSG game due to an injury. Then the first leg was a story of their walking wounded, when both Niklas Sule and Leon Goretzka had to leave the field injured. They still played excellently in the offensive sense and kudos to the unfairly vicious Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, who for me was the best Bayern player on the pitch in the home game. Choupo-Moting scored the only goal on the return only to see the German champions bow on away goals. Bayern have to regret the defensive mistakes in Munich, where the damage was done. They always hunted for that, but rarely has a team played so well through the quarter-finals and still went out. A cruel outcome.