Who will take the first step to the final in the Champions and Europa Leagues?
This week sees the semi-finals in the Champions League and Europa League begin with the first legs of each of the four games being played. Can any of the eight teams establish a stranglehold on their tie to make the second leg something of a formality or is there more likely to be a high number of teams still in with a great chance of progressing come the second leg in a fortnight’s time.
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Let’s now take a look at the two matches scheduled in each competition, starting with the Champions League.
Champions League Semi Finals 1st Leg
Liverpool v AS Roma
- Date – Tuesday 24th April
- Venue – Anfield
- Kick Off – 7.45pm
- Referee – Felix Brych (Germany)
- Probable Liverpool XI – (4-3-3) – Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Van Dijk, Lovren, Henderson, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino, Salah
- Probable AS Roma XI – (4-5-1) – Alisson, Peres, Florenzi, Kolarov, Fazio, Manolas, Strootman, Nainggolan, De Rossi, Perotti, Dzeko
A repeat of the 1984 European Cup final pits Liverpool against AS Roma for what will be the sixth time the teams have met in European competition. Liverpool hold sway with 2 outright wins, one win on penalties and there has also been one draw and one Roma win in those five games.
Both teams came through an exciting quarterfinal against much more fancied opposition to reach the semis. Liverpool defeating Premier League Champions Manchester City 5-1 on aggregate, while AS Roma came through dramatically on goal difference against Barcelona, coming back from a 4-1 first leg deficit in the Nou Camp to win 3-0 at home.
The key to this tie is likely to be Liverpool’s talented attacking trio of Mane, Firmino and Salah. If they can play as they did against Porto and Manchester City, Roma could be in for a torrid night at Anfield. If the Italians can nullify their threat, then Lthey stand a great chance of going through.
I do feel the Reds will just about eke a win here and that Roma will still be in this come the second leg and I do feel that Sadio Mane’s good form in European competition of late means that he is the best value option for the first goalscorer market.
Match Result Pick – Liverpool to win – 4/9 with Coral
First Goalscorer Pick – Sadio Mane to score first – 11/2 with Coral Sport
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
- Date – Wednesday 25th April
- Venue – Allianz Arena
- Kick Off – 7.45pm
- Referee – Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands)
- Probable Bayern Munich XI – (4-3-3) – Ulreich, Rafinha, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba, Kimmich, Vidal, James, Muller, Ribery, Lewandowski
- Probable Real Madrid XI – (4-3-3) – Navas, Carvajal, Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Bale, Isco, Ronaldo
Real Madrid have a decent record against Bayern Munich in recent times. After failing to win in Germany against Bayern in their previous nine attempts, Real have won the last two matches between the sides in Germany and Bayern will be well aware of Real’s ability to ruin their dreams. The Spanish side have knocked them out of the tournament in the past two years.
However, this Bayern side has a superb home record and they have moved smoothly into the semi finals of this tournament, something that you cannot claim Real Madrid have done particularly after their incredible 4-3 aggregate win over Juventus thanks to a very controversial 98th minute penalty for Real in the home leg.
This is a game that I see heading to the Bernebeu with plenty still at stake for both teams. I do see both sides scoring a goal and I do fancy Bayern to take a slight lead with them into the second leg. If we get an early goal then that could be a by a 2-1 or maybe even a 3-1 scoreline if Bayern play very well.
However, I do feel Ronaldo is a real threat to Bayern and I do fancy the Portuguese legend to be the first goalscorer on the night before Bayern stage their comeback.
Match Result Pick – Bayern Munich to win – 19/20 with Coral Sport
First Goalscorer Pick – Cristiano Ronaldo to score first – 7/2 with Coral Sport
Europa League Semi Finals 1st Leg
Arsenal v Atletico Madrid
- Date – Thursday 26th April
- Venue – Emirates Stadium
- Kick Off – 8.05pm
- Referee – Clement Turpin (France)
- Probable Arsenal XI – (3-4-3) – Cech, Monreal, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil, Xhaka, Lacazette, Welbeck
- Probable Atletico Madrid XI – (4-3-3) – Oblak, Vrsaljko, Giminez, Godin, Juanfran, Saul, Koke, Gabi, Griezmann, Correa, Partey
This is the game that most football purists would have put down as being the best final, but Atletico and Arsenal drew each other in the semi-finals and that sets up an intriguing clash between both these giants of European football.
Atletico come into this game not in the best run of form. They have lost two recent games to Sporting and Real Sociedad and they also have Diego Costa out injured from the first leg, although the ex-Chelsea man should be fit to make a return for the Spanish team in the second leg.
They face an Arsenal side that will be without Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang but who have been in very good form of late including racking up a 4-1 win over West Ham at the weekend. However, the Gunners have fallen short in some of their biggest games this season and that is a worry for me against a quality side like Atletico.
I think this one has a draw written all over it and I also feel that when it comes to the first goalscorer, Saul Niguez is superb value at 16/1 as he has a knack of scoring vital goals for Atletico in key games.
Match Result Pick – Draw – 21/10 with Coral
First Goalscorer Pick – Saul Niguez – 18/1 with Coral Sport
Marseille v Red Bull Salzburg
- Date – Thursday 26th April
- Venue – Stade Velodrome
- Kick Off – 8.05pm
- Referee – William Collum (Scotland)
- Probable Marseille XI – (4-2-3-1) – Pele, Sarr, Rami, Rolando, Sakai, Lopez, Luis Gustavo, Payet, Thauvin, Ocampos, Mitroglu
- Probable Red Bull Salzburg XI – (3-4-3) – Walke, Caleta-Car, Ulmer, Lainer, Berisha, Samassekou, Haidara, Onguene, Dabour, Minamino, Hwang.
The two lesser fancied sides in the Europa League meet in the other semi final and this will be the third time that they have played in this competition this season, having met each other twice in the group stages.
On those occasions, we saw two very tight games, a 0-0 draw in Marseille and a 1-0 win for Salzburg at home in Austria. The Austrian side would certainly take those same two results now, but I think they are going to face a Marseille side in better form than they were earlier in the season.
The French side have looked very strong at home in this tournament so far and they will know that the trip to Austria will be tough, so I am expecting Dmitri Payet to be the main man and instigate a strong showing from the home side in front of their partisan support.
Thauvin didn’t shine at Newcastle but he has been amongst the goals for Marseille this year and I’m backing him to score the first and possibly only goal of the night.
Match Result Pick – Marseille to win – 8/13 with Coral
First Goalscorer Pick – Florian Thauvin – 7/2 with Coral Sport