With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League upcoming, the brain trust of Sports Editor Taylor Schloemer and Staff Writer Thomas Evanella break down the final four matches.
Before we start, quick thoughts on how we got here…
Thomas Evanella: Bayern Munich have cruised through the tournament, much like they’ve done in the Bundesliga, setting up a captivating semifinal tilt with Real Madrid. Real meanwhile, have taken on European giants Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus to reach this point.
On the other end of the field are two surprise sides: Liverpool and AS Roma. Roma made it past Shakhtar Donetsk and stunned Barcelona on away goals. Liverpool bossed Porto and fellow English side Manchester City to become tournament darlings with Roma. One must go down, though.
The draw has been positively gripping, and I expect the same for the remaining stages.
Taylor Schloemer: It has been a bit crazy, especially the quarters. Personally, I went into the second legs thinking Roma was dead, Manchester City could come back and sad that Juventus were going out ugly. I was wrong on all three accounts.
Liverpool bookend a terrible week for Manchester City. Liverpool are the only team to beat City multiple times this season, once in the Premier League and then in both legs of the Champions League.
And then Roma devastated Barcalona, reversing a 4-1 deficit in the away leg. Bayern seemed to just cruise through Sevilla. Juve were close to turning around a 3-0 deficit against Real, but then there was a contentious ending.
On that contentious ending, your thoughts?
TS: Yes it was a penalty, but it took me a look or two to decide that. At first glance, I wasn’t sold on it. As for Gianluigi Buffon, a straight red was a bit harsh.
It was a moment of what I will describe as pure Italian passion, and I have seen worse shown a yellow card. Considering Joe Hart came even closer to referee Michael Oliver in the past, I don’t think the official handled the situation correctly.
Sure, Juve players swarmed Oliver when he awarded the penalty, but his sheepish expression was a perfect representation of an Englishman in a big soccer situation. Instead of waving those players away and having a discussion with the captain, Oliver became overwhelmed. A discussion with Buffon, the captain, would have been nice, but that didn’t really happen.
I would love to know what Buffon said, and maybe that would shine light on why Oliver sent him straight off. We may never know, so that is that.
TE: I am in the same camp as you: the right call was made. That being said, for Oliver to point to the spot in that moment, in stoppage time at the Bernabeu, was truly stunning. He made the right call, though.
Buffon’s red card was harsh in my estimation. Wojciech Szczęsny deserves credit for stepping in to face Ronaldo and making a strong attempt at stopping the shot. But to take the moment away from a legend like that was devastating to watch as a fan. I can’t help but imagine Gigi making the save and coming through as he has done time and time again. It was total emotion, just like you said. But that’s what the Champions League is all about, isn’t it?
Moving forward, Real-Munich and Liverpool-Roma, which are you most interested in?
TE: Both matchups have a lot of appeal for me in different ways. Obviously, Real-Bayern is the can’t-miss draw. When names like Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller are on the field, it’s appointment viewing. It ought to be a memorable clash between European titans.
With that in mind, Liverpool and Roma certainly command attention.
TS: Despite being an avid Premier League fan, Real-Munich is the one to watch. There is too much star power that Liverpool-Roma doesn’t quite have. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are two of the biggest clubs in Europe. Both sit in the top five for me.
Roma and Liverpool don’t have the recent history that the other two have. Munich may be the strongest team in Europe, but Real have an aura around them that makes them seem destined for the final.
Who do you have going through to Kiev?
TS: Real have been underwhelming this season, both in Spain and in the Champions League. Bayern have the advantage of not needing to worry about their domestic league, having already wrapped up the Bundesliga.
Madrid’s defensive woes are going to be highlighted, and the German side goes through.
And Jurgen Klopp gets another shot at the German giants. Liverpool’s front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are relentless. The press will suffocate Roma, and a trip to Ukraine awaits.
TE: Madrid is battle-tested and find themselves in the semis for the eighth consecutive campaign. They have the experience and class to match up with anyone on the continent. Like Bayern, they have the luxury of focusing strictly on the UCL, having wrapped up a fourth-place finish in La Liga.
Bayern holds the advantage in this draw, though. The Bavarians have a deep well of talent capable of overwhelming Real. Allianz Arena has been a fortress for Munich this season, and I expect Lewandowski and Co. to jump out in front in the first leg and bury Real on the road.
To your point, Liverpool’s attacking trio will get the best of Roma. I can only imagine Salah is relishing the chance to play against the capital club, his former employer.
Roma’s best hope will be to rely on Allison Becker, who leads the tournament in saves, to stand on his head. Having slain the Catalonian behemoths in the quarters, it’s impossible to count Roma out, but Liverpool has the edge.
Brief thoughts of the Europa League?
TE: The Europa League is an entertaining undercard to the UCL. The semis took shape like the Champions League’s with the big boys on one half and the smaller clubs on the other. I envision Atletico advancing past Arsenal and Olympique de Marseille downing RB Salzburg.
The two will square off in Lyon for a seat at next year’s table. I hope Marseille can get it done in front of a French audience to shake up next year’s UCL field.
TS: Diego Costa gets to go back to London. The senior vice president of striking pests has some fun with his former crosstown rivals in Arsenal, and he has gotten deep under their skin in the past. Atletico Madrid go through there.
It has also been a long time since the name Dimitri Payet has flown across my radar. For that reason, I hope Marseille get past Salzburg and get a super goal along the way.