It’s hard to believe that we are here already but the Champions League has reached the semi-final stage and we are just two matches away from knowing who this year’s finalists will be at the Stade de France in Paris next month.
Manchester City and Liverpool are joined by Real Madrid and Villarreal in the final four and the quartet all have their own scripts for getting to the final, but sadly two of these teams will bow out at this stage before their final acts can be written. Most English football fans are going to be hoping for the two Premier League titans to square-up in the final but a lot of people have bought into the Villarreal fairytale campaign which saw them knock-out Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
Here are all the key details about the two semi-final first legs.
Manchester City vs Real Madrid
Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
When: Tuesday 26th April
How to watch: BT Sport 2
Sportsman stat: Pep Guardiola has eliminated Real Madrid from the knockout stages of the Champions League on two previous occasions, beating them 3-1 on aggregate in the 2010-11 semi-finals with Barcelona and 4-2 on aggregate in the 2019-20 round of 16 with Man City. Guardiola is looking to become the first manager to knockout the Los Blancos from the knockout stages on three occasions.
Guardiola’s side maintain their position in the driving seat for the Premier League title and their FA Cup semi-final exit to Liverpool leaves the Champions League as the only other competition that the Citizens can win this term. It is undoubtedly the trophy that Guardiola and the supporters are desperate to win and after reaching the final last year, they will be hoping that this is their chance to make amends.
On paper, the City squad is much stronger than Real Madrid, but Los Blancos have shown their quality in Europe to get this far, largely thanks to the brilliant Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, while Vinicius Jr has been a nuisance to all the full-backs he has faced. Like City, Real Madrid are top of the league and by quite some distance, with 15 points separating them from rivals Barcelona in second. Boss Carlo Ancelotti will be hoping to deliver a second Champions League title as Real manager, eight years after his first. There is a great deal of quality in both side’s attacks and there is a feeling that this tie could be a high-scoring and entertaining affair.
Liverpool vs Villarreal
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
When: Wednesday 27th April
How to watch: BT Sport 2
Sportsman stat: Since a 2-1 victory in Merseyside over Everton back in August 2005, Villarreal haven’t managed to win any of their last eight away games in England in all competitions (D3 L5); already tasting defeat at Old Trafford in the group stages earlier this season.
Liverpool are still in the hunt for an immortalising quadruple and are looking to book their place in their third cup final of the season, while still in the race for the Premier League title. Jurgen Klopp has been one of the strongest managers when it comes to European competition over the last few years and his squad boasts the experience of becoming European champions three years ago. They have shown several times this year their frightening attacking quality in this competition and they will arguably be Villarreal’s toughest test so far.
Having said that, Unai Emery’s side are continuing to defy the odds, having already been giantkillers on two occasions in the last two rounds, knocking out Juventus and then 2019-20 champions Bayern Munich. After winning the Europa League in 2020-21, few could have predicted the Yellow Submarine going on this amazing run
It is their first semi-final in the Champions League since their defeat to Arsenal in 2006 and Emery, along with his players have helped deliver another brilliant season on the European stage for the supporters. Many will be expecting their bubble to burst against Liverpool, but after knocking out Bayern last time out, you cannot underestimate the team spirit in the Villarreal squad who know how to exploit the big boys with devastating counter-attacks.
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