We have a busy week of Champions League and Europa League action ahead of us once again and this time, we are down to the nitty gritty. It is the two semifinal first legs in both competitions this week, with the two Champions League games played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and both Europa League semifinals kicking off on Thursday evening.
Four English teams are involved at this late stage across both competitions. Tottenham and Liverpool could make it an all-English affair in Madrid in June if they can both better Ajax and Barcelona respectively in their semifinals, while in the Europa League Arsenal and Chelsea take on Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively in the hope of landing a spot in the final in the Europa League, which will take place in Baku at the end of May.
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Let’s now take a closer look at each of the four semifinals taking place this week.
Champions League Semifinals 1st Leg
Tottenham Hotspurs v Ajax Amsterdam
While Ajax have a pretty much full-strength squad to pick from and will likely not alter too much from the team that won in both Turin and Madrid in the past two rounds, Spurs have issues in attack where Lamela and Kane are injured with Son suspended for the first leg. I feel Pochettino will pack the midfield and play Moura up front, with Alli and Eriksen more advanced, with the option of Llorente or Janssen available from the bench if required.
Probable Tottenham Team – 5-4-1 – Lloris, Trippier, Rose, Vertonghen, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Dier, Wanyama, Eriksen, Alli, Moura
Probable Ajax Team – 4-2-3-1 – Onana, Veltman, Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Schone, de Jong, Van de Beek, Ziyech, Neres, Tadic
How Will the Game Unfold?
With Kane and Son in the team, I’d have fancied Tottenham to secure a win here, but the absence of both, plus Lamela, is I think a huge blow for Spurs. I don’t think either Llorente or Janssen is mobile enough to start this game, so I can see Spurs pushing Alli and Eriksen into more advanced roles and packing the midfield. Ajax will play as they always do on the road, hitting on the counter and I can see them being dangerous, especially if Spurs do not get an early goal. This is a game that I think will be very tight and will still be very much in the balance heading into the second leg.
- Match Result – Draw – 12/5
- Correct Score – Tottenham 1-1 Ajax – 5/1
Barcelona v Liverpool
I can’t see either team making any sweeping changes to their usual first choice formation for this game, Barcelona could elect to bring in Dembele for Coutinho, but the former Liverpool man seems to be first choice at the minute and he did score a fine goal against Manchester United in the last round. Similarly, I expect Jurgen Klopp to revert to his most trusted XI which includes a midfield trio of Milner, Henderson and Wijnaldum plus Firmino should be fit enough to start in attack after missing out in the 5-0 home win over Huddersfield Town on Friday.
Probable Barcelona Team – 4-3-3 – Ter Stegen, Sergio Roberto, Alba, Pique, Lenglet, Busquets, Arthur, Rakitic, Suarez, Coutinho, Messi
Probable Liverpool Team – 4-3-3 – Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Matip, Van Dijk, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner, Mane, Salah, Firmino
How Will the Game Unfold?
Barcelona will feel they need to take a lead to Anfield for next week but the problem they have is that they face a Liverpool side with arguably one of the best defences in the competition and who have won 3-1 and 4-1 in their last two away games in the tournament. While Messi and Suarez can cause any defence huge problems, the fact that Liverpool’s own attacking trio can do likewise against a Barcelona defence that I feel is suspect means that I don’t feel this game will quite go as the bookies are expecting.
- Match Result – Draw – 29/10
- Correct Score – Barcelona 1-1 Liverpool – 6/1
Europa League Semifinals First Leg
Arsenal v Valencia
Arsenal have plenty of injury worries in defence with several players out injured, especially in the full back positions. Maitland Niles will serve a domestic suspension for his red card at the weekend but will be available to play right back with Kolasinac likely to play left. I can see the Gunners moving to a back five here, with wing backs and allowing them to play Lacazette and Aubameyang in attack to get at a talented Valencia back line that does not concede many goals. Guedes and Mina are the Spaniard’s attacking threat and will be a danger on the counter-attack.
Possible Arsenal Team – 3-5-2 – Cech, Maitland Niles, Kolasinac, Koscielny, Mustafi, Papastathopoulos, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Possible Valencia Team – 4-4-2 – Neto, Wass, Lato, Roncaglia, Diakhaby, Soler, Parejo, Guedes, Torres, Mina, Gameiro
How Will the Game Unfold?
This game I can see going one of two ways, either being very tight and the game finishing in a low key 0-0 draw, or I can see Arsenal perhaps grabbing a goal, Valencia feeling that 1-0 is not a bad result but then the Gunners could snatch a second late on to make the second leg more comfortable and it is this scenario that I feel has a more realistic chance of happening, especially with Unai Emery in charge at the Emirates as this is the competition that has become his own personal fiefdom in recent times.
- Match Result – Arsenal to win – 17/20
- Correct Score – Arsenal 2-0 Valencia – 8/1
Eintracht Frankfurt v Chelsea
Frankfurt have a headache in that their flying winger Ante Rebic is suspended for this leg after picking up a second yellow card in the quarterfinal second leg. Pacienca may come in for him and play with Jovic in attack with Gacinovic providing the attacking support from deeper. Chelsea may be without Rudiger who was injured against Man Utd at the weekend, so Christensen may deputise and I’d expect Giroud to come back into the team for Higuain in attack and possibly Barkley or Loftus-Cheek for Kovacic in midfield.
Possible Eintracht Frankfurt Team – 3-4-1-2 – Trapp, Ndicka, Hasebe, Abraham, da Costa, Gelson Fernandes, Rode, Kostic, Gacinovic, Jovic, Pacienca
Possible Chelsea Team – 4-3-3 – Kepa, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Luiz, Christensen, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Willian, Giroud
How Will the Game Unfold?
These two teams are the top scoring sides in the Europa League this season, Frankfurt with 28 goals and Chelsea with 30. Frankfurt will miss Rebic’s pace and guile down the flanks, but they still have real potency in attack and in Jovic have one of the most in form strikers in Europe. I can see both sides scoring in this game as I feel Chelsea are a much better side with Giroud in attack rather than Higuain but I just think with home advantage, I fancy the German side to take a narrow lead with them back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg.
- Match Result – Eintracht Frankfurt to win – 7/4
- Correct Score – Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Chelsea – 9/1