UEFA Champions League : Semi-Finals
Yesterday the first semi-final match for the 2017-2018 UEFA Champions League was held at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool, England. The first leg is oh so critical in these home and home series. So how did it shake out and what happens next? Spoiler alert. The banner in the lead in photo might just be the next Ballon d’Or player of the year.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Liverpool FC – A. S. Roma
Liverpool surprised a lot of soccer fans with their Quarter-Final thrasing of EPL Champions Manchester City. Man City, which for all purposes, had locked up the EPL title a month or two ago, was in prime position. Their position atop the EPL with room to spare allowed them the luxury of focusing on their quest for the Champions League title. Resting players and allowing substitutes to get solid work is always a recipe for success. Unfortunately for Man City this time something was left out and they baked a cake they didn’t rise. Liverpool won the home match in easy fashion beating Man City 3-0. A pretty tough but not insurmountable lead for a side than can score goals in bunches. But at the return match in Man City they were stunned losing 2-1 and Liverpool moved forward.
Roma on the other hand was faced with the daunting task of travelling to Barcelona for their first match. And as daunting as it looked on paper it turned out to be every bit that difficult. Barcelona scored a commanding 4-1 victory and looked all but assured of moving on to the Semi-Finals. But Roma had other plans. Roma came out pressing from the opening whistle and scored in the sixth mintue. And they never let up. Relentlessly trying to find the net twice more and keep a clean sheet. Casual fans may not understand how incredibly difficult this is to do in a sport where scoring comes at a premium. But somehow they pulled off one of the greatest second leg comebacks in Champions League history. In fact this was only the third time this feat has ever been accomplished. The biggest second leg comeback? Four goals down and came back to tie and win on the tiebreaker in last years Round of 16 by this same Barcelona side. Sadly for the Spanish club this time they were on the wrong end of the turnaround. Oh those all important away goals!
So going into the first leg yesterday both teams were playing well and confident. Liverpool looking to press and build a goal cushion going into the return match in Roma in May. Oddsmakers had the match heavily leaning toward Liverpool based upon their recent form (they have not lost at Enfield in several months). And in this case, the oddsmakers were spot on. Soccerbot, which has been up 1,800 % over bookmakers closing odds (no that is not a typo) since its development two and a years ago. The key money maker they expected in this game was to take the over on goals scored. With the line set at three goals with the prediction being a Liverpool victory 2-1.Well Liverpool itself beat the over scoring five times while Roma found the next twice. Liverpool marched to a 5-0 lead on two goals each by Mohammed Salah and Roberto Formino and a single tally by Sadio Mane. Several records were matched by this offensive outburst. Salah and Formino became just the second pair of teammates to each score double digit goals in a single Champions League season and James Milner set a record for notching his ninth assist of the season.
While a big hurdle for Roma to overcome at their home match as we have already seen this season its not impossible. The key was the two late goals Roma scored. Not only did they need to get on the scoresheet and close the game they got two away goals. Will it be enough? I doubt it but down 5-2 is mountains better than being down 5-0! But at the end of the day Liverpool has Salah and nobody seems to be able to keep him out of the net lately.
FC Bayern Munich – Real Madrid FC
Today’s match, held in Munich matches two scoring machines. Bayern has scored 84 goals this season in the German Bundesliga and are running away with the title. They have scored 23 more goals than the next highest scoring club, Dortmund. Meanwhile, Real Madrid is second in scoring in the Spanish La Liga behind only Barcelona.
Bayern has plenty to play for not the least is which to revenge their ouster from last season’s Champions League by Real Madrid. And Real Madrid would certainly like to extend their Champions League title streak having won the last two seasons. Both clubs come in playing well of late. Bayern has won four and had one draw in its last five matches outscoring their opponents 18-4. Ouch! On the other side Real comes in having two wins, two draws, and a loss in their last five matches. Only outscoring their opponents 8-6. However there a couple of big factors at play in this series.
First off, there is Cristiano Ronaldo. One of the biggest game players in the sport and maybe in any sport on the planet. He thrives in the spotlight. The German side will have to shut him down and not let him control the match like he did last year. Second, as always this time of year, injuries could end up being a key factor. Real Madrid is basically healthy and has their full squad available. Not so with Bayern Munich. They have previously lost midfielder Arturo Vidal for the season. That’s a big loss. Now they are uncertain if midfielder Corentin Tolisso or defender David Alaba will be available today. Both are game time decisions and missing Alaba would be especially troubling. But Bayern is a big club with deep pockets which translates into roster depth. We’ll see how this shakes out.
Another interesting story line is that of Bayern and Polish striker Robert Lewandowski who has made it known to his teammates and has changed agents to facilitate a move to Real Madrid. What better way to impress the team you want to go play for than to standout playing against them!
Oddsmakers have this one basically a coin flip. I suspect it will be a close game decided by a goal (or less). Bayern wants to get the home victory so as to not have to head to Spain having to win. Real will play tight, try and counter with Ronaldo and Isco and will be happy with a draw and ecstatic with a win. As in the match yesterday Real will want to stay close and score an away goal.
The game airs this afternoon on Fox Sports at 2:30 EDT. Should be a good one!