The draw for the Champions League semifinals took place today, and it went exceptionally well indeed. In truth, there are very few bad Champions League semifinals, but this time around, we’ve been delivered two potentially brilliant ties.
In one side of the draw, the two biggest aristocrats left in the competition will duke it out in the kind of titan-on-titan clash that Gazprom’s executives dream about. Over in the other, the plucky little guys — relatively speaking, since one of them is five-times winners Liverpool — will attempt to extend their dream runs just that little bit further, all the way to Kyiv.
Bang. Boom. Crash. Wallop. That sound, dear readers, is the sound of the two favourites for the competition being smashed together at the semifinal stage. It would have made for an excellent final. But on the other hand, now we get two legs.
In what has been a delightfully ridiculous competition so far, Bayern Munich have managed to avoid any massive comebacks and bitter controversies, instead progressing smoothly past Besiktas and Sevilla. Last time Jupp Heynckes took Bayern into a Champions League semifinal, in 2013, they ripped Barcelona to tiny little pieces, scoring seven unanswered goals. And should they get past Madrid, then the tantalising prospect of another final against a Jurgen Klopp team awaits. Narrative! Narrative everywhere!
As for Real Madrid, well, there’s not much to be said beyond: they keep going, they keep winning, and even when they seem to be falling apart completely, Cristiano Ronaldo keeps scoring. They are the masters of cup football, and after the late late show against Juventus, they will be feeling utterly invincible. Winning when playing well is boring. Winning when playing appallingly: that’s the stuff that threepeats are made of.
Prediction: Cristiano Ronaldo 4-3 Bayern Munich
Roma vs. Liverpool
Meanwhile, in the upstarts half of the draw, there’s narrative all over the place. Roma’s reward for their historic dethronement of Barcelona is a reunion with Mo Salah and two legs against the Champions League’s most dangerous attacking unit. Still, they won’t be lacking in belief, and Edin Dzeko is as awkwardly effective a striker as there is in world football. Liverpool’s defence has generally been better since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, and that will have to continue.
For Liverpool’s part, they will also be confident in their ability to take absolutely anybody apart. That front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have scored 23 goals between them in the competition, which is eight more than Roma have managed as a team. We can expect another noisy atmosphere at Anfield. We can also expect plenty of looks back at the 1984 European Cup final, when Liverpool beat Roma in the Stadio Olympico: Franco Tancredi’s spilt cross, Bruce Grobbelaar’s jelly legs, Alan Kennedy’s winning penalty. It will be a good build-up for fans of long moustaches and short shorts.
Prediction: Liverpool to score about seven, Roma to score slightly fewer.