WITH the top three in the Premier League in the last eight, it was no surprise the draw for the closing stages of the UEFA Champions League came out looking very favourable for another all-English final in Paris on May 28 2022. Chelsea and Manchester City could face each other in the semi (indeed, so could the two Madrid sides) and Liverpool could force their way through to the final in the other half of the draw.
Manchester City v Atlético Madrid
City and Atléti have never met in European competition, but Spanish clubs are regular visitors to the Etihad Stadium. In the past decade, City have played 16 games against La Liga side, winning seven and losing seven. In the league this season, City have lost three times and they’ve all been against London clubs, so if Chelsea prove to be their opponents in the semi-final, it should be very interesting. Chelsea, of course, beat City 1-0 in the 2021 Champions League final and City have gone out to Premier clubs in three of the last four seasons. After a decade of trying, City need 2022 to be their year in the competition, but at times, their goalscoring capability seems to have trouble finding the back of the net. Raheem Sterling and Riyad are top scorers this season with 10 apiece. Atlético reminded everyone that they are canny operators in Europe when they overcome Manchester United and they will be a tough nut for Pep Guardiola’s team to crack. City will be Atléti’s third English club in the 2021-22 competition, but they are unlikely to allow themselves to be jostled out of the Champions League like United were.
Prediction: Manchester City, but the tie will go the distance.
Chelsea v Real Madrid
The two clubs met for the first time in the Champions League semi-finals last season, although they had faced each other in the final of the 1971 European Cup-Winners’ Cup. Chelsea are likely to finish third in the Premier and are still in the FA Cup. They were also beaten on penalties by Liverpool in the EFL Cup. The club has a shadow hanging over it in the aftermath of Roman Abramovich being sanctioned by the UK government and Chelsea are expected to be sold in the coming days. Unless a new agreement is made, Chelsea may have to play behind closed doors at Stamford Bridge. They have done remarkably well to stay focused during the Ukraine war and their record in the Champions League this season has been very impressive, winning six out of eight games. The reigning European champions have a tough task against La Liga leaders Real Madrid, who came back well against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16. Karim Benzema is on fire at the moment and the team, which still has too much experience to have a long future, may see this season as its last chance to recapture the Champions League with the current squad. Real have been knocked out of the competition by English clubs in the past two campaigns.
Prediction: Chelsea, narrowly.
Benfica v Liverpool
It’s great to see Benfica, winners in 1961 and 1962, still in the competition, but it is hard to envisage them overcoming Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who are in fine form, despite losing their round of 16 second leg against Inter. Benfica are currently third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, but they are too far off the pace to overcome Porto and Sporting. They’ve had their problems this season and sacked manager Jorge Jesus in December. They’re out of the cup, lost the league cup and have struggled against their closest rivals. But they came through a tough group stage, finishing ahead of Barcelona and pulled off a surprise win at Ajax in the round of 16. Liverpool have been operating at full steam for weeks and have opened up the Premier title race when it looked as good as over. They’ve also started to reshape their team and their forward line has been given greater options with the signing of Luis Diaz. Mo Salah, as ever, has been prolific and has netted 28 times, eight in the Champions League. Liverpool have already won the EFL Cup and they are in the last eight of the FA Cup. People are talking of an unprecedented treble and they should come through against Benfica without too much trouble, but then Ajax didn’t expect to go out to the Eagles of Lisbon.
Prediction: Liverpool, comfortably.
Villareal v Bayern Munich
Bayern, on paper, have one of the easier draws, but they will be foolish to underestimate Unai Emery’s Villareal, who won the Europa League last season against Manchester United. Villareal also pulled off a shock win in the round of 16, beating Juventus in Turin 3-0 and finished second in a group that included United, Atalanta and Young Boys. It is worth noting that Villareal have drawn all four La Liga games with the two Madrid sides and only two clubs have conceded fewer goals than their 26. They are currently seventh in La Liga. Bayern Munich are on course for their 10th consecutive Bundesliga title, but their lead at the top is now just four points. They have been more careless than usual and were beaten by Bochum and Augsburg in the league and were demolished 5-0 in the DFB Pokal by old rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach. Robert Lewandowski has scored 43 goals this season, 12 in the Champions League, including a hat-trick in Bayern’s 7-1 thrashing of Salzburg.
Prediction: Bayern Munich, but they will have to be careful.
If all goes to plan, the semi-finals will be Manchester City v Chelsea and Liverpool v Bayern Munich. That’s supposing everyone is firing on all cylinders, which cannot be guaranteed. What is fairly certain is the quarter-finals will be compelling affairs and certain to excite. However, there’s always a shock or two, so don’t be surprised if the semi-finals look far different, but we’re plumping for a Manchester City v Liverpool final in Paris.