Champions League Semifinal Preview

The Champions League Semis kick off on August 18th at 3:00 EST! After witnessing a roller-coaster quarterfinals that saw some of the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) soccer this year, fans around the world are wondering what to expect from the four teams that remain. Let’s jump to Europe and have a look…

Match One: RB Leipzig vs PSG

RB Leipzig: After a thrilling match against Atletico Madrid that saw the game winning goal scored in the 87th minute off a deflection, Leipzig go into the CL semifinals for the first time in the club’s history. The club is in good hands however; manager Julian Naglesmann at just 33 years old has elevated the club into a potential European powerhouse for years to come. Even with the loss of prolific striker Timo Werner, who finished second in the Bundesliga in goals, Naglesmann has an elite squad in rising talents, Marcel Sabitzer, Dayot Umpecano, Dani Olmo, and the American Tyler Adams. Adams, at 21 years old, slotted that game-winning goal last week against Atletico.

Leipzig is relentless and keeps its opposition on their toes; they don’t have a set strategy, instead focusing on a weak point in the opposing squad they are facing that week and trying to exploit it. Take last game, where they worked from the edges of the box to send in crosses that led to an easy Dani Olmo header in the 50th minute. The only thing consistent about this team operates is their fitness and pressing. Leipzig is relentlessly chasing down opponents after they lose possession leading to sloppy decisions by opposing teams and the opportunity to counterattack at any moment. It will be interesting to see how they will adjust to the equally nimble PSG…

PSG: If the last game taught us anything, it’s that PSG is beginning to master the mental game that’s associated with not just soccer, but any great team. After Neymar bottled seemingly every shot he took in the first half, along with a beautiful Mario Pašalić curler that killed PSG’s energy, the game seemed destined for Atalanta to win. But with only stoppage time remaining, Paris Saint-Germain erased a one goal deficit and went on to win against a scorching hot Atalanta team that surely had fans on the edge of their seats over the last few minutes. With experienced players like Keylor Navas and Thiago Silva and the world class talent of the ‘fantastiques’, Paris is built for the Champions League, and have a real shot at winning the title this year.

Since Leipzig’s strategy is largely unknown, it’s hard to say how PSG under fellow German (and Haglemann’s mentor) Thomas Tuchel will approach this game. The two managers have the same style; this is certainly a duel that is just as much about class at it is strategy. Tuchel has further knowledge about what he’s going up against too; he was manager for about a decade previously in the Bundesliga, coaching FSV Mainz and later Borussia Dortmund from 2009 to 2018. The boss can certainly reach into his bag of tricks and pull out whatever he needs to win the game- and don’t forget he has the world class talent to do so…

Game prediction: This is not one you want to miss. Between all the storylines and the mystifying game plans, I am confident that this game is much more of a toss-up than it might seem on paper. RB Leipzig will keep it interesting, but I think the master gets the best of his pupil here, and Tuchel’s PSG side comes out on top. Look for another 2-1 victory for Paris, hopefully in exciting style as well.

Match 2: Bayern Munich vs OL Lyon

Bayern: Stunning. In every aspect of the word, the German side stunned the world with an 8-2 win over Barcelona. In a horrendous display, so much so that it’s fueling Messi transfer speculation, caused former boss Quique Setién to lose his job immediately after the game, and created a fantastic clip of Canadian Alphonso Davies destroying Nelson Semedo on the far side of the pitch, to the point where he could be transferred out of Barcelona this summer as well. Die Roten are a machine; they simply destroyed Chelsea in the round of 16, and made fools out of Red Star Belgrade, Olympiakos, and Tottenham in the group stage. With 39 goals in the tournament, 62 more shots on goal than the second best team, and two of the top three scorers in Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry, they are an offensive powerhouse, and are just as good on defense.

Bayern are one of many teams in recent years to adopt the high press system, keeping all players pushed up the field when on offense, and trying to regain possession before the opponent can play a through ball. The difference between Bayern and all of the other clubs is that they’ve assembled the players, especially defensively, to cover tons of field at all times and possess on attack. The aforementioned Alphonso Davies, multi-faceted Joshua Kimmich, and defensive mainstays David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng are the perfect pieces to complete the second half of their system. Plus, of course, the ever amazing Thomas Müller/Lewandowski combination create a 1-2 pair that after years of playing, still continue to surprise fans with amazing back and forth play that slices through center backs like it’s their job or something…

Lyon: What can I say? In a text with a friend, I said that Man City would “outclass and win decisively” against Lyon and probably score three. I was so wrong. Say what you want about Lyon; the penalties in their game against Juve were atrocious on the referee’s part and Federico Bernardeschi was about a foot from sealing the deal before a phenomenal tackle by Marcelo ended all hopes for the goal. Sure, Raheem Sterling could’ve scored with a wide open net within six yards to tie and Ederson shouldn’t have been standing in no-man’s land, allowing the first goal to slip to his left. You could even go back to group stages, where Lyon only qualified by a goal that just squeaked by Leipzig’s keeper in the 82nd minute of a game that ended 2-2. But Lyon is here and it’s not just on luck.

Manager Rudi Garcia has taken point and assembled quite the squad of rejects and left-behinds over the years. Take former Man-U player Memphis Depay, or former Scottish Prem player and EPL failure Moussa Dembele, or former Chelsea winger Bertrand Traore, or former Man City defender Jason Denayer, or… you get the point. Garcia has maximized the potential of this squad, and by utilizing them in the right positions, Lyon has kept up with Juventus and Man City – not a task to be taken lightly. Garcia played a 3-5-2 formation last game, which allowed the two wing players to come back on defense and stop Man City’s attack from creating chances, while also allowing them to come on the attack, which did lead to a Maxwel Cornet goal. Look for them to do something similar against Bayern Munich…

Game Prediction: I said it about the last game and I was wrong. But I’m going to say it again; Lyon will get outclassed and will be absolutely wiped by Bayern. No disrespect to them, but not a club in Europe is better than Bayern at the moment. 4-1 Munich.

Champions League Semifinal Preview
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