Clash of the titans: Ronaldo vs Lewandowski, Salah vs Dzeko – who will make it to the final?
With the first legs of UEFA Champions League (UCL) semi-finals encounters being played this week, the long and arduous road to Kyiv is finally in its homestretch. On one hand, we have a couple of usual suspects in Real Madrid and Bayern Munich gracing this stage of Europe’s high-end tournament once again, while on the other, Liverpool and AS Roma are the surprise visitors who are looking forward to gatecrashing this premier footballing party.
The ties could have easily pitted the two favourites against the underdog pair, but as fate would have it, Los Blancos were drawn with the Bavarians while the Mighty Reds were asked to play against the Giallorossi to set up, at least on paper, two extremely mouthwatering clashes amongst equals.
The first of the two encounters can easily be labelled as the Salah Derby, with Mohamed Salah’s previous employers visiting his current paymasters. Roma would still be banging their head against the wall at the relative pittance they got for the newly crowned Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) Player of the Year, when they sold him to Liverpool for what now seems like a mere £37 million. But Romans’ loss is Scousers’ gain, as the Egyptian king has defied all sporting expectation by not just storming the English shores but the whole of continental Europe with his goal scoring exploits. Salah has now scored 41 goals in all competitions for LFC with 11 assists.
The semi-final for the Giallorossi is not just about stopping Liverpool; it’s how they would stop the Jürgen Klopp juggernaut with Salah as its attacking focal point. Even if the Italians somehow manage to halt the Egyptian’s march towards their goal, they would still have to contend with his partners in crime, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
But Roma are not giving it up this easily, especially since this is the first time in 34 years that the Italians are in the Champions League semi-finals. Back then, they managed to make their way to the final which happened to take place in their own city. But a home-turf heartbreak saw them lose the 1984 final on a penalty shootout at Stadio Olimpico against, surprise surprise, Liverpool.
But fast forward to 2018 and this present Roma now has the chance to banish the demons of their 1984 European campaign against the same opponents.
Even if they have lost out on Salah, they still have the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Edin Dzeko and Daniele De Rossi to turn any encounter in their favour, if it’s their day. If anyone is still uncertain about their credentials, their shocking quarterfinal victory against Barcelona should really put all of those doubts to rest.
While Roma was the easiest of the opponents that Liverpool could have faced in the semi-finals, I still believe the Giallorossi would be a far sterner test than anything we would face if we proceed to the final.
Being labelled the underdog suits Klopp’s charges, but against Roma, Liverpool would be the favourites to qualify for the final in Kyiv, and that is something that could disrupt our usual tactics of gegenpressing a far fancied opponent.
Moving on to Wednesday’s fixture, where we have Bayern Munich hosting the defending champions yet again at the Allianz Arena. The meeting tomorrow between the two European giants is the most played UEFA competition tie with the Germans being eliminated by their Spanish opponents in the last four seasons, including the quarterfinal defeat in 2016/17. Los Blancos are bidding to win the trophy for an unprecedented third year in a row after enduring a less-than-perfect season under boss Zinedine Zidane.
Their performance on the domestic front is in stark contrast with their continental exploits, where Cristiano Ronaldo is in an utterly supreme form; scoring in every Champions League game this season, with 15 goals in total. On the other hand, Jupp Heynckes’ side come into the match in high spirits, with a sixth consecutive Bundesliga title already sealed. But on injury front, the German’s have been dealt a big blow with Arturo Vidal out injured for the rest of the campaign. Their first choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has just returned to training, and along with Kingsley Coman, would be a major doubt for the first leg in Munich.
While on the basis of the aforementioned, it might be easier to tip the Spaniards effortlessly qualifying for the final, but we would do well to remember that the Germans with Robert Lewandowski have a proper ace up their sleeves. It might as well be labelled as Ronaldo against Lewandowski , especially considering Real’s form and Bayern’s injury crisis.
So while Kyiv is right around the corner for fans like myself who have still got their clubs competing in the competition, even the neutrals can’t complain since they have got four highly entertaining football clashes to look forward to.
At the end of it all, there will be one usual suspect and one “gatecrasher” in Kyiv, battling it out for a chance at the Champions League title. But the million dollar question is, which ones?
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.